Good News!

For Good News, part I, see my excellent colleague Mike Kanin’s post

I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in February with a group of incredibly smart and passionate people at MisInfoCon, a summit on misinformation hosted at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. Over the weekend a group, including journalists, educators, librarians, coders, and technologists, gathered together to discuss, debate, and work on solutions to the complex and widespread issue of fake news, and misinformation more broadly. The work and discussion from MisInfoCon is currently continuing at SXSWedu and SXSW Interactive here in Austin.

I’m a librarian and curriculum designer working on open and digital news literacy curriculum with support from the Mozilla Foundation. My teams consists of partners from the Austin Monitor, Open Austin, and my own organization, Nucleus Learning Network. Our curriculum aims to equip and empower middle and high school students to navigate, critically engage with, and participate in an increasingly complex news ecosystem.

My team includes a librarian/educator (me), a journalist, and a coder/tech expert, which really represents both the attendees and spirit of MisInfoCon. It was a rewarding experience having so many distinct perspectives in one place, as evidenced by the first night where I engaged in a rousing debate with a journalist and two technologists on the role of social media juggernauts in the information ecosystem.

The weekend at MisInfoCon, and ensuing conversations at SXSW, have encouraged me to reflect on a few key issues: education, collaboration, and the fact that there is no magical, fast solution to the issue of misinformation. In fact, misinformation is part of a larger series of challenges and opportunities surrounding the state of the Internet itself, which is inextricably tied to the state of the news ecosystem. I recently attended a Mozilla-hosted SXSWedu event on Internet Health, which featured Mozilla founder Mark Surman as a speaker.

At this Internet Health event a topic that repeatedly came up is the tension between the promise of the Internet as a space that is open and accessible and the simultaneous dark side of that promise where the Internet can be, and often is, controlled and used to spread, well, misinformation. Finding solutions to misinformation is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of time by a lot of people who are focused on a host of complex issues that contribute to our misinformation woes. This problem is huge and complicated and my team is focused, for our part, on combating misinformation by empowering learners valuable critical thinking and news literacy skills.

The weekend at MisInfoCon, above all else, solidified my stance in the importance of education, which is reflected in the approach my team has chosen to tackle a piece of the complex issue that is misinformation. Helping people become savvy consumers and producers of media can help us to shore up a robust news ecosystem. But my time at MisInfoCon also reinforced my stance on the crucial importance of collaboration and breaking down silos as well. I was told, more than once, that a person had “forgotten” about librarians, for instance. Moving forward it’s important to ensure that each stakeholder and problem-solver and changemaker has a seat at the table (or is in the room where it happens, to reference Hamilton). This is a practice my team is trying to exemplify and I feel that the work we are doing is all the stronger for having a range of expertise and perspectives working together.

Ensuring that various industries are represented is key because solutions to the recent spate of fake news, and of misinformation more generally, can’t and won’t come from the tech sector alone, or journalists alone, or educators alone, or librarians alone. The tech sector can improve algorithms or incentivize the sharing of credible content, but we also need to ensure that individuals are taught strategies that empower them to think critically about news they encounter. Librarians can leverage their expertise to suggest quality news outlets to people, but journalists also need to grapple with the way they cover news in a complicated and rapidly changing media landscape.

All of these groups represent interconnected pieces and all of these groups will need to share ideas, listen to each, and work together if we want to create and maintain a news ecosystem where producers and consumers of news seek and share credible information.