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Alternative Facts: How to Discover What’s Really True

What Do These Three Statements Have in Common?
Why They are Alternative Facts, Of course!

  • February has 31 days
  • 2+2=5
  • It never rains on Wednesdays

We seem to be bombarded with information at every moment. In addition to radio, television, and newspapers, the Internet feeds us information all day, and because we often choose sites that validate our own personal preferences, the news that is fed to us is increasingly one-sided! That’s why it’s so important to consult a wide variety of sources for news. Be on the alert for stories that “go viral” on social media like Facebook and Twitter. It’s easy to make a post look like the real thing, but it may be a complete fake.

It’s never smart to believe everything you read or hear. You need to check and see whether or not it is actually a verifiable fact.

Librarians always verify the truth of information - so should you. When librarians do research we choose authoritative (credible) sources and if we do enter something into Google, we never assume that whatever it turns up is accurate. In order to determine validity we go to the source. What is this website? Where is it coming from? Who is contributing to it? Is it maintained by people who can submit whatever they like? Is it a for-profit/commercial sight? If it is for-profit then obviously a profit is being made from what appears on the site, and the agenda and motives of the site’s contributors will surely be influenced by how much money they stand to make. When searching for definitive, reliable information on the Internet always look for a domain name that does not end in .com. Instead, look for .org (a nonprofit organization) / .edu. (an educational institution) / or .gov (a governmental institution) sites. Then, be sure to compare the information you find on the various sites in order to confirm accuracy.

Rather than searching the Internet, librarians often use sources such as subscription databases of newspapers, periodicals, journals, and reference books whose contributors are professionals and experts in their fields. Their work is reviewed by their peers for accuracy. When you see that a source is “peer reviewed” you know that accuracy has been verified, and verified again by trained professionals.

Becoming “information literate” requires applying these practices when consuming information. Information Literacy is comprised of: reviewing information in multiple authoritative sources; using your critical thinking skills to study the context and history of the issue; and in areas of controversy, reading a variety of opinions on both sides of the issue in order to draw your own informed conclusion.

Once upon a time in this country there was something called the Fairness Doctrine - a former federal policy requiring television and radio broadcasters to present contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance. The policy was challenged and ultimately revoked in 1987, after Congress passed a resolution instructing the FCC to study the issue. The explosion of talk radio in the late 1980s and early 1990s is largely a result of the end of the Fairness Doctrine. There are pros and cons surrounding the doctrine and its revocation, but the fact that it is now permissible for only one side of an issue to be presented as fact on radio and on television has certainly escalated the political rhetoric in our country.

One Internet source to use when verifying what you hear is www.factcheck.org Note that this site is a .org site indicating that it is not for profit. “Factcheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” That information is taken verbatim from their mission statement. The site is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The fact checkers themselves are all trained and experienced journalists. Journalists and librarians have something very important in common – we check and re-check multiple sources in order to verify information.

When a politician or a candidate makes a statement and presents it as fact, you should always check to see if it is really true. Don’t believe everything you hear! Be a critical thinker and learn to question everything.

A democratic society relies on educated voters who make informed decisions for the common good of the people. Libraries are the backbone of a democratic society because we provide free access to reliable information for everyone.

The catchy sound bites that are presented on newsy talk shows are designed to grab your attention and to tap into the basest of human emotions - fear and anger. Instead, use your brain to investigate and learn the facts.

The Library has many resources that are available in the building as well as from your mobile device or home computer. If you’d like help in accessing these resources call us at 631-581-5933 or stop by the Adult Reference Desk to speak with a librarian.

Be an informed citizen and voter – check the facts!

Lauraine Farr

Lauraine Farr

Lauraine Farr, the Assistant Library Director has been a librarian since 1981. She has been an avid reader forever, and is usually in the middle of at least two books. She has a BA in the Humanities, with a Minor in English, and an MS in Library Science. She especially loves reading contemporary literary fiction and historical fiction, as well as discovering new authors. Her other interests include yoga, writing, embroidery, hiking, and exploring Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Washington DC with her grown sons and husband. Click here to subscribe to Lauraine Farr's blog posts!

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