Library Association Offers Help to Fight ‘Fake News’

By Chet Wade
Chapter Ethics Officer

Philosopher and college professor Marshall McLuhan became famous in the 1960s for his expression, “The medium is the message.” The medium that delivers the message – television, radio, newspapers, the internet, etc. – shapes the impact of the message on the recipient.

McLuhan also had a lesser known but equally insightful phrase: “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”

Together, the two phrases may help explain the endless stream of groundless conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated rumors and “fake news” that public relations professionals are increasingly called on to combat.  False information can be made to look authentic because social media allows it to be repeated quickly, easily and incessantly. And, because people can be exposed to so many different messages it is easy to adopt ones that match your point of view no matter how implausible they may be.

Where does a PR professional turn to get the “real news” and facts? How do you check the latest reports and protect the integrity of your client, employer or yourself – a problem that may have gotten worse with the COVID-19 pandemic? False reports seem to be spreading as fast or faster than the virus.

The American Library Association is offering help. It is encouraging its member libraries to conduct their own information campaigns to counteract the misinformation and disinformation circulating about the novel coronavirus, potential cures and related issues.

As part of that effort, the ALA has published a list of 15 sources where librarians, PR practitioners and the public can check the latest rumors and reports.

“Stick with your trusted and verified sources of information that present measured, and not inflammatory, news,” advised Nicole A. Cooke, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, in an article on ALA’s Programming Librarian website and in its American Libraries magazine.

Some of the sources are well known and have been around for years. They include the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact, the fact-checking website that uses a Truth-O-Meter, and Snopes, called the oldest and largest fact-checking site online.

The ALA also offers a downloadable graphic on “How to Spot Fake News” from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

Other sources are specific to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, such as NewsGuard’s “Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center.” It lists dozens of websites NewsGuard says are publishing false information about the virus from among the 4,000 news sources it tracks in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy.

And, there are government sites listed by the ALA, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and its one-page “Share Facts about COVID-19.”  

A full list of the resources recommended by the ALA is available at, “Fighting Fake News in the Pandemic.”