Recommended Reading on Information Ethics and the News.
Foundations of Information Ethics
Edited by John T.F. Burgess and Emily J.M. Knox
ISBN: 978-0-8389-1722-0 (paperback)
Available from: ALA Neal-Schuman, American Library Association, 50 East Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611-2795; alastore.ala.org/content/foundations-information-ethics
What is information ethics? According to the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS), it is "the branch of ethics that focuses on the relationship between the creation, organization, dissemination, and use of information, and the ethical standards and moral codes governing human conduct in society" (abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_i.aspx). In other words, information ethics is comprised of values that are integral to the work of librarians and information professionals regardless of their work setting.
Information ethics itself is a fairly young discipline, having entered the professional literature only 30 or so years ago with the publication of Robert Hauptmann's book Ethical Challenges in Librarianship (Oryx Press, 1988) and the introduction of the Journal of Information Ethics in 1992. While useful starting points for a discussion of information ethics are basic documents of the profession, such as the ALA's Code of Ethics (ala.org/tools/ethics), Foundations of Information Ethics seeks to increase awareness of current information ethics trends among practitioners with an eye to promoting discussion and reinforcing a sense of professional concern. As Journal of Information Ethics founder and editor Hauptmann states in the foreword to the book, "An ethical attitude to the production, dissemination, storage, access, and retrieval of information and data is beneficial and necessary to a well-functioning information society; this is affirmed by crisis after crisis concerning false news, fake facts, social media privacy invasions, and everything else."
As described in the preface to this book, the Association for Library and Information Science Education's Information Ethics Special Interest Group (SIG) met in 2016 to review the SIG's first 10 years. The consensus from this meeting was that library and information science educators needed an updated work to supplement existing materials. The update would articulate "the intellectual underpinnings of the information ethics discipline." John T.F. Burgess and Emily J.M. Knox, the book's editors, who are both professors of information science, invited 16 experienced library and information professionals to contribute essays focused on key issues in information ethics concepts and trends. Each essay contains an introduction containing foundational ideas and terminology, an overview of key thinkers related to the concept, and suggestions for further reading. The book is designed to be used as an academic textbook, and most chapters are supplemented with primary source materials, relevant case studies, references, and additional resources for further reading.
The first chapter, written by Burgess, offers a conceptual discussion of information ethics. His definition of the term is deeply informed by the philosophy of information, moral issues surrounding information and communication technologies, and the global nature of information systems. Within these parameters, information ethics may be seen as "an applied ethics, dedicated to negotiating the moral terrain between emerging information and communication technologies, the pervasive information systems supported by those technologies, and the deeply interconnected world that is dependent on the information provided by those systems."
Later chapters include discussions of "Privacy" by Michael Zimmer, "The Ethics of Discourse" by John M. Budd, "Intellectual Property Ethics" by Kathrine Andrews Henderson, "Data Ethics" by Peter Darch, and "Global Digital Citizenship" by Margaret Zimmerman. The concluding chapter by Amelia Gibson, "Emerging Issues," is a thought-provoking essay on future trends in information ethics such as algorithmic bias, the ethics of social media and social movements, precision marketing, fake news, and open data.
Well-organized and thoroughly researched, Foundations of Information Ethics is recommended not only as a useful textbook for LIS and philosophy students, but also as an excellent addition to any librarian's professional library.
Automating the News: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Media
By Nicholas Diakopoulos
ISBN: 978-0-6749-7698-6 (hardcover)
Available from: Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA
Most of us go through the day without thinking about algorithms at all, but we actually use them all the time. An algorithm, in its most basic incarnation, is merely a step-by-step set of instructions or guidelines that describe how to perform a task. Common algorithms include recipes, driving directions, and mathematical equations. Computer systems use algorithms constantly. However, instead of merely repeating a set of stable instructions over and over, these systems reprogram algorithms as they work in a constant cycle of refinement (think strategic advertising placement).
In Automating the News: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Media, computer scientist and reporter Nicholas Diakopoulos has written a fascinating and cautionary book about how information technology is increasingly writing the news we read. Can journalism be automated? What are the implications for information searching and retrieval in a purely computer-mediated information environment? There is a vast difference between automated systems that depend largely on human input and those in which the computer acts autonomously and ignores human intervention. It is the tension between human expertise and agency and the capability of computers to handle vast amounts of data quickly and efficiently that are at the core of this issue.
Automating the News is structured around three basic themes: the reflection of human (and journalistic) values in the design and use of news production technologies; the subsequent change in journalistic practices; and how algorithms and automation contribute to the continuing sustainability of news production. No aspect of modern news is untouched by machine learning systems. Diakopoulos observes, "Algorithms and automation are suffusing the entire news production chain, whether enhancing investigative journalism with machinelearning and data-mining methods, creating new interactive media such as newsbots that converse with audiences, or optimizing content for various media platforms using data-driven headline testing. There's almost no facet of the news production pipeline, from information gathering to sense-making, storytelling, and distribution, that is not increasingly touched by algorithms."
Chapter 1 discusses "hybrid journalism," the intersection of traditional journalistic practice and algorithms. Data mining as a technique for streamlining basic newsroom tasks such as monitoring events is covered in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 discusses information technology and its role in news content production, such as the Associated Press' use of automated writing programs to report on financial earnings, sports scores, and weather. Subsequent chapters introduce readers to newsbots, automated news distribution platforms, and how algorithmic techniques are impacting professional journalism practice. Each chapter is thoroughly researched and integrates interviews with leading practitioners in the field.
One particularly intriguing passage in the book concerns AnecbotalNYT, an automated bot written by Diakopoulos that finds and tweets personal anecdotes posted as comments to New York Times articles. The bot collects comments; scores each for length, readability, and references to personal experience; then selects a comment likely to contain a personal story based on a weighted score; and tweets the comment back to individual who originally shared the article link. This small program is an example of a completely automated news redistribution method that can potentially engage a larger audience than the original article.
Will technologies such as bots replace human reporters (or, by extension, librarians)? In Diakopoulous' view, AI and automation will not supplant people, but rather will continue to push an evolution in job responsibilities, leading to a "hybrid" of human expertise and computer systems. While not specifically oriented toward librarians, Automating the News is a fascinating glimpse into the realities of how news is produced and distributed.
Information Literacy and Libraries in the Age of Fake News
Edited by Denise E. Agosto
ISBN: 978-1-4408-6418-6 (paperback); 978-1-4408-6419-3 (ebook)
Price: $65.00 (paperback); call for pricing (ebook)
Available from: Libraries Unlimited, 147 Castilian Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93117;abc-clio.com/ABC-CLIOCorporate/product.aspx?pc=A5771P
High on many librarian discussion lists these days is the topic of "fake news," a type of propaganda with deep roots in the history of journalism, but which has gained traction since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Also known as "junk news" or "hoax news," this phenomenon is a highly problematic issue for information professionals as they attempt to provide the most reliable, reputable information sources possible in the course of their daily work. How do we handle the flood of disinformation and misinformation in an environment in which people are getting more and more of their news from online sources?
Denise E. Agosto, professor in the College of Computing & Informatics, director of the Master's in Library & Information Science program, and executive director of the Center for the Study of Libraries, Information, & Society at Drexel University, brings years of experience to an investigation of this important and timely topic. Information Literacy and Libraries in the Age of Fake News is a thoughtful, in-depth examination of strategies and techniques that librarians working in any information environment can and should use to navigate this landscape. Agosto writes, "The very nature of library and information science education and of library work means that librarians know much more about how information is created, distributed, and used than most members of the public, and they are perfectly positioned to teach their users what they know and how to apply that knowledge to everyday life contexts."
This knowledge and experience are well-demonstrated by the authors of this collection of 12 essays, each of which discusses a specific facet of fake news. Topics include the dangers of online cultural misinformation and disinformation, the role of information and other kinds of literacy on economic inequality, misinformation and intellectual freedom, fake news and critical thinking, and evaluation of sources.
Particularly interesting is historian Sharon McQueen's essay "From Yellow Journalism to Tabloids to Clickbait: The Origins of Fake News in the United States." With all the attention it's getting now, it's easy to assume that fake news is purely a 21st-century issue. McQueen provides a wider perspective by tracing the origins of questionable "journalism" all the way back to Egypt's Ramesses II, who commissioned false news accounts of the Battle of Qadesh in 1275 BCE. Her discussion of the rise of the American popular press beginning in the 1830s with New York City's The Sun is a fascinating story and illustrates just how pervasive and widespread fake news has been in society for some time.
Later chapters address relevant issues facing public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries and provide practical methods for addressing the fake news problem in these settings. For example, Ben Himmelfarb of White Plains Public Library (White Plains, New York) writes about creating a public program on fake news for his library, an idea sparked by listening to the On the Media podcast, which included a "Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Fake News Edition." The University of Michigan Libraries' Hailey Mooney, Jo Angela Oehrli, and Shevon Desai discuss the development of a fake news course, research guides, and one-shot instruction sessions. Kristen Mattson, a school library media director at Waubonsie Valley High School (Aurora, Illinois), outlines opportunities for school librarians to work with classroom teachers in writing curriculum, forming professional learning communities, doing guest teaching and one-on-one coaching, and pursuing professional development.
Much more than a practical handbook of techniques for addressing the fake news problem, Information Literacy and Libraries in the Age of Fake News serves as an excellent, nuanced discussion of its long-lasting and serious consequences and implications. As 2016-17 American Library Association President Julie B. Todaro states in the preface, "Now and going forward, we have many difficult issues to deal with for teaching people how to identify, evaluate, and apply--including dealing with attempts to rewrite history, to interpret reality, to ignore diversity, equity and inclusion, and to shatter our standards and applications for authority and credibility." This book makes a convincing case that teaching people how to identify, evaluate, and apply reliable and credible information is a key responsibility for librarians and information professionals.
Jennifer Bartlett (email@example.com) is interim associate dean, Teaching, Learning & Research Division, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Comments? Email the editor-in-chief (mary firstname.lastname@example.org).
University of Kentucky Libraries
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