• Leah Levine

Information Literacy as Countermeasure to Disinformation within White-dominated American Media

Updated: Feb 2

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By Leah R. Levine


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In an age of disinformation, information literacy has become an increasingly valuable skill set. For academic librarians, communicating this skill set has thus become part of the job. But in a field that seems to focus on White-dominated research and publications, how can one be sure that the information deemed “legitimate” in the eyes of academics is not simply repeating and thus only validating a White, Westernized curriculum?

This is exactly the question University of West Georgia professor Angela Pashia raises in her short essay Black Lives Matter in Information Literacy. She does so by first examining the role of critical information literacy within academia, which is a second step to assessing the validity of information. The first step, a so-called “neutral” approach, resorts to determining the legitimacy of information through the credentials or authority of its originator, publication date, and purpose of content. Missing from this evaluation, notes Pashia, is the assessment of the power structures which have enabled the academic authority and the ideological biases that accompany the information dissemination system within the higher education community. As a result, the academic approach to information literacy is one that fails to consider that its function mirrors social and political order, which is rife with unequal power structures, discrimination, and biases that exact real-world consequences.

Looking to confirm the validity of content is a natural reflex; after all, people cannot believe everything that gets posted on the internet. But the first resort, seeking out scholarly authority, discounts the reality that scholarly authority is predicated on a system that prioritizes Whiteness and other forms of oppression. Not to mention, the nature of who gets to participate in contributing to academic authority is oftentimes White, wealthy, and sexist. As a result, narratives, realities, and information get lost because it does not serve a White narrative. The lines of information lost are the voices of Black, Indigenous people of color (BIPOC).

Pashia’s challenge to this traditional way of validating information involves asking her students to assess a series of tweets regarding civil unrest and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri in October 2014. The tweets challenged official news accounts of what was happening at the time, with information in the form of 140 characters or less, pictures, and videos that illuminated the one-sided, White narrative that painted the protests as destructive, divisive, and chaotic, while at the same time ignoring the violence being inflicted upon protesters. This is exemplified in the media’s capturing of angry protesters having a reaction to racist men agitating them. The men were conveniently left out of the story, thus shaping a narrative that suggests protesters are reacting disproportionately to the issue of racism.

I believe that Pashia’s example elucidates the issue of taking the word of “official” sources too seriously. However, that example is limited insofar as it is such a generalized statement. As she says, the process of finding genuinely credible sources, especially through first-hand accounts that are posted on social media platforms like Twitter, is “more work than simply accepting the account posted on CNN based on the authority of an established news network, but it is important for students who want to begin to question the hegemonic narrative.”

Pashia’s claim in regard to first-hand accounts disseminated via Twitter is certainly true, but she falls short of critiquing how the academic machine reinforces itself by prioritizing a canon of White, western information creators.

If Black lives matter within information literacy, I hope that Pashia recognizes the inherent Whiteness of so-called “valid information” in America. The poisonous part of this is not proven, but instead exemplified by racist, White accounts of civil uprisings in response to police murdering Black people. It is a result of the poison, assuming that academia can redeem itself by merely pushing to get a holistic viewpoint. To me, there must be a reckoning that seeks to acknowledge the larger ways that academia is entirely constructed through a system of Whiteness. Simply spotting a falsehood put forth by CNN regarding police violence is not enough, certainly not in 2020.

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