The Culture, Media and Sport Committee have published evidence submitted to the ‘Fake news’ inquiry. A topic that has been regularly in the headlines over the past year, the inquiry aims to understand changes in how news is consumed, and the role of skills and education.
RLUK’s evidence avoids attempts to define ‘fake news’, because of the unintended impacts or chilling effect such a move could have on information intermediaries, including libraries, to provide access to information. Technological approaches, such as algorithms risk replicating human biases and errors, are not open to scrutiny, and wouldn’t help people to critically evaluate the information they use.
Libraries have an essential role in preserving and stewarding the historic, scientific and cultural record – especially in the case of digital content to guard against deletion or revision. Our evidence highlights several programmes that are seeking to fulfil this role – and the need for sufficient funding to provide for quality services and expert staff to undertake them.
Skills are a vital part of ensuring everyone can use the information they access. Libraries have long had a key role in educating people how to use all types of information. These include developing information and media literacy, and digital literacy skills. Libraries support people to critically examine and evaluate information, and to evidence their learning and knowledge including citations. RLUK member libraries, and libraries across higher education in the UK offer training in these skills to researchers, students and staff. The need to increase investment in ensuring everyone has information literacy skills has never been greater. Everyone must be empowered to make informed decisions through access to information and skills, as outlined in the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development to which RLUK is a signatory. Several professional standards and guidelines used in the UK and approaches to skills delivery are included in our evidence.
Addressing ‘fake news’ far from straightforward
RLUK’s response echoes the concerns of organisations such as Article 19, and the four rapporteurs on freedom of expression. The rapporteurs released a joint declaration in March 2017 that notes existing legislation already provides for some protection from the negative impact of misinformation, and that prohibitions on disseminating information based on ideas such as “false” or “fake news” are not compatible with international standards on freedom of expression. Efforts to regulate ‘fake news’ in countries such as Italy have been met with criticism.
Within the library community, libraries are taking a range of steps to ensure their users are equipped with the skills needed to assess the veracity of information. These include a range of approaches to information literacy, such as the UNESCO Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Global Assessment Framework, SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy, national frameworks, and activities supported by Jisc. CILIP’s information literacy group expand on some of these approaches and others in their evidence to the committee. Librarians have also noted a range of other issues that impact access to information online, including filter bubbles (in which people only see information that reinforces their existing point of view, based on algorithms), and challenges to media plurality.
Deputy Executive Director, RLUK