#citylis Reflections and Research: Why LIS doesn’t have a quick fix for the post-factual society … and why that’s OK by David Bawden | CityLIS News – Library & Information Science at City, University of London
The irony is that by now it was supposed to be perfect. For most of my working life in the library/information area, first as a practitioner and then as an academic, the emphasis was on providing access to information. Most of the time, whatever the topic, there was never enough information, and accessing what there was could be difficult. Then came the web, Google, Wikipedia, social media, mobile information, open access, and the rest. So that now, we should be living in an information nirvana, where we have ready access to all the information we could need, for any purpose. And indeed, to an extent, that is what we have.
But we also have, as Luciano Floridi has pointed out, a situation where we can carry a device in our pocket which gives us access to the accumulated knowledge of humanity; and we mostly use it to send each other pictures of cats, and to have arguments with people we don’t know. [Not that I object at all to pictures of cats, but you get the idea.] More seriously, we have fake news, alternative facts, a post-truth and post-factual society, filter bubbles, and all the other accompaniments of what seems to be a deliberate retreat from the rational, knowledge-based world that many of us believed we were naturally headed for.
Information access? Yes, that’s good, on the whole, But, alas, we can see that misinformation and disinformation proliferates just as well as valid information. I was particularly struck by seeing this unfold in the Twitter responses to the Quebec shootings of 29th January, with false information repeated and embellished to meet the need for facts to suit pre-determined conclusions. Over fifteen years ago, Lyn Robinson and I argued, in a paper on libraries and open society, that providing a ‘free flow of information’, with access to all available and relevant sources, is necessary but not sufficient to support an open and democratic society. While only this month, a paper in The Information Society argues cogently that providing access to the ‘right’ information does not in itself bring about desirable policy outcomes. It’s also worth remembering that one of the few things that have been established beyond doubt by several decades of information behaviour research is that everyone – academics and politicians included – deal with information through satisficing and the principle of least effort. And what could involve less effort – physical, technical and mental – than getting from Twitter and Facebook a selection of news and information recommended to fit in with your prior beliefs.
So, what should we, the LIS profession and discipline, do now? I have no convincing answer; at least not one that offers an immediate quick-fix. Certainly, it will involve a combination of carrying on with our information access/literacy work, plus activities on a wider canvas, with a specific ethical commitment to opposing the post-fact/post-truth nexus. As Georgina Cronin says, in her wide-ranging analysis of what librarians can do in a post-truth society: “Educate. Vote. Protest. Whatever it is, do it”.
Perhaps one specific, and important, role for LIS, actually quite a traditional one, is to keep the information environment, or that part of it which may be to a degree under our influence if not control, in a clean, tidy and welcoming state. This will involve a variety of activities, from reporting abuse on social media, to helping to remove fake news, to adding citations to Wikipedia, and much more. In the new information environment this process, which Floridi has dubbed the moral duty to both clean and to restore the infosphere to a proper ethical status, is both very difficult and very important.
#post-truth #bibliothèques #litteratie_numérique