Monday, August 5, 2013

Twitter and Truth: More questions than answers

A few weeks ago I had the honor of presenting a Webinar for the Easy Bib Summer PD Series. This presentation was a real stretch for me. I have spent enough time on Twitter to feel comfortable and I have done considerable research on Twitter as an instructional and informational tool and even some practice teaching with Twitter and about Twitter. However, given the complexity of the subject, I think my presentation, as given is at best a starting point, for myself as well as my audience.

The focus of Twitter in the Classroom, was on Twitter as an information source. My central point is that people are increasingly getting information via social media and are more influenced by peers in the Twitterverse than by traditionally published material. Opinions and perspectives are formed online by interactions with others and the posting of influential individuals, some of whom are actual experts but mostly by self-appointed 'experts,' who may or may not be passing on correct information. To me, it's obvious that librarians need to be a part of the conversation on and about social media, or risk becoming irrelevant as information professionals.

So who am I? I'm really another self-appointed expert with some experience, but by no means a genuine expert. I can say, I've done much reflecting and additional learning about this massive subject and read some contrary viewpoints such as this one by Molly McHugh.

Ms. McHugh is an informed skeptic that is mostly dismissive of Twitter as an information source. I agree with many of her points, especially the fact that information on Twitter is largely suspect because it is contaminated by commercial interest and public relations.

Nevertheless, my point is that as educators we need to train our young people to recognize self-promotion and sensationalism in its natural context and be able to sift through it to glean useful insights. In my talk, I was primarily concerned with conspiracy theories, because they are prevalent on social media, while traditional library information sources generally do not publish conspiracy theories as fact.

Training young people to recognize conspiracy theories is, in my view, vital to the preservation of democracy. That's actually a relatively straightforward process, but one I feel librarians are neglecting. And what are we as librarians if we're not concerned about the role of information in preserving democracy?

What's more complicated is addressing the whole notion of 'who is an expert?' and utilizing experts' perspectives in online research. While I can't claim to know where all this social media is taking us, I know that Twitter has dramatically altered publishing and the overall information ecosystem for better and worse. Let's pay attention.

Here's the recording of my Webinar.


  1. Kudos, Neil. Even for a nightowl like me, I'm so glad I stayed up way past my bedtime to be both informed and entertained by your webinar. It should be on every librarian's "must see" professional development list. Most impressive.

  2. Thanks Sharon! Glad you got something out of it. This is one of my favorite subjects, so I enjoy researching and talking about it.