There are lies, damn lies, and then there is politics. Fake news has been around since the dawn of civilisation and has taken flight and caused serious concern more than once in human history. Crises of authority and the desperate search for a single source of truth has peaked many times.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
From the Reformation to the ongoing information crisis, times of disruptive change offer rulers, politicians and power brokers the opportunity to promote their own authoritative spin on reality as the definitive truth and often leave the rest of us with few easy tools or tests to reliably determine which facts are reliable and whether complex world views are valid.
If we can’t trust what we read, perhaps we can still trust where we read it
In recent years, there has been a violent backlash against corporations and professions that were once seen as unquestionable authorities. The accounting scandal that buried corporate giant Xerox and its auditor Arthur Anderson and the sub-prime mortgage scandal in America among others provoked a reaction against authority, with peer recommendation and crowdsourced wisdom becoming more attractive than informed professional opinion. This welcomed in the current age of fake news and the deliberate seeding of disinformation through social media and other communication networks.
In response, Philosopher Gloria Origgi suggests that by critically appraising which information sources we believe to be worthy of our trust, we can rebuild an ecosystem of reliable information sources based on the reputation for critical enquiry and rigorous scrutiny that we may then use as a surrogate for attempting to determine the veracity of all the information we are bombarded with on our own. The role of libraries of all kinds in curating reliable sources of authoritative and carefully verified information continues to be one of their most important functions and services to society, and just one reason we should all campaign to prevent their closure in any sector and at any time: reliable access to the truth matters.