As librarians we seek to guide our students to information that will help them solve problems or make discoveries. But lately we've noticed that our students are literally drowning in a sea of opinion and misinformation. Often they have sunk so deep that they can't even see the life preserver of truth when we throw it in their direction.
In this media crazy age, opinions still count, but it is important to understand that some opinions actually count more than others. We recently encountered a student who wanted to research President Obama's birth. Our student was confident that Obama was NOT born in the United States, and he cited several reliable sources that led him to believe this was the truth.
So what's an educator to do?
Here's the approach that resonated most with our student.
When you buy a car, whose opinion do you trust and why do you trust it? Do you believe a car dealer, an auto magazine review, or an independent owner trying to make a sale? Would you be less inclined to believe the car dealer if you knew they were making a profit? Would you be more inclined to believe the independent owner if you knew he was a car mechanic with an impeccable record?
There is a difference between fact and opinion, but not everyone sees it. Donald Trump may be convinced our president was not born in the United States, but what are Donald Trump's credentials regarding this particular issue? And besides Donald Trump, who else believes this and why? What knowledge, expertise, or experience do they bring to the table?
We must work hard to ensure that our students don't let opinions drive them to the 'facts' that appeal to them the most. There is a dangerous sea of opinionated information out there and they are already partly submerged.