Think it might be fake news? Ask a librarian to help you suss it out

SHARE Think it might be fake news? Ask a librarian to help you suss it out

It was announced last week that the Obama Presidential Center, seen here in a conceptual drawing, will include a branch of the Chicago Public Library. | Obama Foundation via AP

It’s so tempting and so easy to share and forward stories through social media and email. Sometimes too easy.

We share and forward stories with outrageous headlines without taking a moment to pause.

How often do we check to see if the story is made up of whole cloth by a fake source? Is it seeded with a kernel of truth and layered with falsehoods or misleading statements? Is it clear who the author is and who funded the author’s work?

Or perhaps it is well researched, with evidence to substantiate its claims.


As users of social media, we need to pause before we share with friends and family.

Here’s a perhaps unsurprising fact: we are quickest to pass along fake news when it confirms our own world views, a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” Yet it is the stories that we agree with, the ones that make us say, “heck yes!” and “wait until my buddy sees this!” that should most make us pause and check before we click “Share.”

Pausing gives us a chance to take a deeper look. We can read the article and see if it matches the headline. We can Google the source, and even check to see who has registered its domain to see if it seems legit.

If that’s not enough, we can go to humans, like public librarians, for help in checking out a suspect article. Librarians can point us to self help tools, like reverse image search engines, and the Wayback Machine,, a site that shows how a particular web page (such as has changed over time.

Many people are surprised to learn that librarians will help answer nearly any question. That includes helping you figure out what’s behind that story you want to share but fear might be fake and could embarrass you.

Unlike fact-checking services such as Snopes and Politifact, librarians tend not to declare that an article false or true. While we may point to such fact-checking services, we prefer to guide you to self-help tools so that you can make your own determination.

Librarians have been in the business of showing the public “news literacy” tools since the early days of the internet. It’s our bread and butter. And now is an excellent time, in this fake news era, to ask for librarian assistance, either by going into a branch or conversing with us online. As librarians, we want to help in the search for the truth.

Users of social media can “like” or follow their local library’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Unlike the early days of the web, readers can also talk back, ask questions, get answers.

Some say we can rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do this for us. Don’t get us wrong; AI applied to the fake news problem is helpful. It’s just not the final word.

Human intelligence — via your local librarians — is a valuable resource available free to all of us to develop the questions, knowledge and vigilance that truth demands.

Mary Minow is a library consultant and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.Brian Bannon is commissioner and chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Library.

Send letters to:

The Latest
As the Bulls remain uncompetitive and, in some minds, irrelevant, the Bucks are favored by a number of analysts to return to the NBA Finals in what would be their eighth straight postseason.
He fell around 2 a.m. from an apartment building in the 1500 block of West Jonquil Terrace, police said.
La agrupación mexicana cierra con broche de oro la serie de conciertos del International Latino Cultural Center de Chicago.
Elk Grove police officers responded to reports of a man with a knife in the 200 block of Fern Drive, and once at the scene, a man exited a house with a knife, police said. He then confronted police in a nearby yard, and during the exchange, police shot him.
Kenneth Mosby, 23, was arrested Thursday in Maywood and charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, Chicago police said.