Your Facebook newsfeed: home of misleadingly flattering status updates, babies sporting clothing displaying how many months they’ve been alive, food that is apparently too remarkable to eat without first creating a photographic record of its existence, cute animal videos, pithy political memes, 31 BuzzFeed Lists You’ll Allow to Steal Five Minutes of Your Life Despite Their Colossal Stupidity, links to goofy blog posts by handsome librarians, cuter animal videos, and sometimes, actual news and information. You have to be careful with this last one, as you need to consider the bias/agenda of the person/group posting it and the authoritativeness of the source. Such need for caution was reinforced for me this week.
During one of my masochistic scrolls through my feed, I came across this shocking infographic. I knew the state of reading in our country was sorry, but I had no idea it was approaching Threat Level Midnight as the graphic suggests. I took to my keyboard to encourage everyone to read before the dumbening of America reaches a point of no return, but first, I poked around online to find the source of the infographic’s inflammatory info. It’s a good thing I did, because it turns out the infographic’s creator decried its information as untrustworthy several months after posting it due to his discovery that his original source and its stats were “questionable.” He updated his original post on his website to explain his newfound distrust of the information, advise others against using it, and present an improved, fully cited graphic.
And yet, the original graphic is still circulating around the Internet years later, ready to dupe unsuspecting folks who fail to meet it with a critical eye. People will see it on Facebook or elsewhere, accept it as fact, share it, and further spread the misinformation, and that’s no bueno. This is a public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood librarian: Please, don’t believe everything you read online. I know it’s tempting and easy to accept everything at face value given the scrolly, half-gluteused way many of us consume news now, but take a few extra seconds to at least consider, and at most investigate, the source of the information you encounter, especially if you intend to share it or use it to inform your worldview. If something doesn’t seem quite legit, question it, either privately to yourself, or, if you’re feeling bold, directly with the provider or original source of the information. If you look in the comments section of the post about the reading infographic to which I linked in the previous paragraph, the first two comments are from librarians questioning the source and validity of the information in the graphic. It’s a pretty safe assumption that those initial critical comments and the input from the commenters who followed them were at least partially responsible for the graphic creator’s eventual rejection of the dubious statistics and his creation of a related graphic with cited sources. Because a few prudent Internet users spoke up, bad information was replaced with better information, and when that happens, we all win.
So remember, try to view the Internet with a librarian’s critical eye, and always browse your newsfeed responsibly.