‘Awash in a sea of information and fake news,’ Americans need to develop new literacy skills, UB’s information studies chair says

A Pinocchio doll with a "news" sign hanging from a very long wooden nose.

A few simple questions can determine what passes the CRAP test

Release Date: January 27, 2017 This content is archived.

Heidi Julien, professor and chair of library and information studies.

Heidi Julien

“We are awash in a sea of information, some of it objective and useful, and much of it biased or false.”
Heidi Julien, professor and chair of library and information studies
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Responsible and level-headed Americans must develop “digital literacy skills” to sort through the flood of “biased or false misinformation” in today’s information age, warns the chair of the University at Buffalo’s Department of Library and Information Studies.

Lamenting “fake news” as the latest way Americans are misinformed in today’s instantaneous, ceaseless and often raw cyberspace world, Heidi Julien, professor of library and information studies, called the need to recognize faulty and misleading news “imperative.”

“We are awash in a sea of information, some of it objective and useful, and much of it biased or false,” says Julien, an expert on “digital literacy,” which she describes as the skills needed to access, evaluate, use and create digital information.

“Digital literacy skills help people search for and identify good information by developing a critical information lens,” says Julien, who teaches a course on information literacy instruction. “Digital literacy helps us to understand how information is produced, and the political and economic motivations for creating information.”

Julien was recently named vice president and president-elect of Association for Library and Information Science Education or ALISE, a non-profit organization serving as intellectual home of faculty, staff and students in library and information science.

Using her expertise in digital literacy, Julien recommends using the “CRAP” test to decide whether what you’re reading or hearing passes the “smell test”:

  1. Ask how Current the information is. Is it recent? When was the website last updated?
  2. Ask whether the information is Reliable. What is included and what has been left out? Is the information opinion or are there verifiable facts, data or references used to back it up? Is the information presented in a balanced way, including more than a single point of view?
  3. Ask whether the information is Authoritative. Who created the information? What are the credentials of that creator? Who published or sponsored the information, and are they reputable? What interest or perspective is being represented by the creators or publishers of the information? Are there advertisements on the website that suggest who’s paying to produce the information?
  4. Ask what Purpose or point of view is being promoted by the information. Is it fact or opinion? Is it biased? Is it trying to sell you something?

Asking these questions of any information source will help you discern whether you can rely on it, or whether you should beware.

The field of information studies explores digital literacy, and works to develop that skill set among citizens, young and old. UB’s Department of Library and Information Studies offers an undergraduate minor in information studies, giving students in any major the opportunity to develop work-ready skills in digital literacy and information management.

Julien has research expertise in digital literacy (the skill set needed to access, evaluate, use and create digital information), with an emphasis on training for digital literacy.

She also does research into information behavior and information practices, such as the ways in which people think about, search for, evaluate, interact with, manage and use information.

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