"Truthy Lies and Surreal Truths": Some Critical Digital Literacies Guidelines

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"Truthy Lies and Surreal Truths: A Plea for Critical Digital Literacies" (post) outlines guidelines for dealing responsibly with digital content and teaching students to do the same -- with each suggestion more fully developed in the text.

  • "[D]igital literacy and critical thinking about digital media require far more than knowledge of the fallacies of informal logic ... [or] traditional information literacy applied to digital media, more than technical knowledge of digital media production and network protocols."
  • "We need a new, critical digital literacy: a deep understanding of the technological, sociological, and psychological implications of connective digital media and how people use it, with a view towards mindful, ethical media creation and consumption."

A. "Consumption"

1. "Double-check every claim before you re-share."

  • "[R]ead the full article and verify the source, its credibility, and to the extent possible, the veracity of the specific claims being made."

2. "Be wary of casual scrolling." 

  • "[C]asual scrolling impacts your memory, consciously and unconsciously, and reframes your expectations, which in turn shapes what sounds 'truthy' and what sounds surprising or shocking."
  • "We need to have our crap detectors on high alert, and double-check everything we can, especially if you find it popping back into your mind later."

3. Don’t automatically disbelieve the “falsy.” 

  • "[M]any lies sound truthy and many truths seem surreal."
  • "[W]e need to be careful not to disbelieve the surreal simply because of our 'gut' impression."
  • "[S]lo[w] down and thin[k] deeply when deep thinking is required." 

B. "Production"

1. "Do not exaggerate your own claims." 

  • "[G]o[ing] even a little bit beyond the truth in your own claim ... weakens your own credibility and ... contributes to the uncertainty of your allies." 
  • "Both of those things can be used to great effect by deceptive opponents."

2. "Be prepared to repeat the truth over and over." 

  • "Corrections rarely have the same viral reach as fake news and propaganda." 
  • "Sometimes we need to sound like a broken record, or rather a choir of distributed voices, steadily chanting a tenor against which untruths sound dissonant."

3. "Curate good resources." 

  • "Dumping good information and critique into the stream is necessary, but not sufficient."
  • "[I]f we each pick an issue we know well and begin to curate the best resources, ... we can collectively amass a growing network of robust resources to combat attempts at mass digital deception."
  • "Then ... we can share updates to growing resources, and that sharing serves a double purpose: bringing new information to light and bringing old, but still valuable, information back into the conversation without looking repetitive."

C. "Relation"

1. "Stand up for others. "

  • "Some people ― because of their visibility, marginality, or their social status ― will bear the brunt of the deception and abuse more than others."
  • "If you’re one of those others who experience a relatively privileged status, be willing to play tag team and give them a break."
  • "We’re all in this together."

2. "Be helpful to your allies who inadvertently share misinformation." 

  • "Don’t attack them, especially publicly." 
  • "Simply offer them the information you’ve found to be reliable, and if you’re sure they shared something false, encourage them to delete it and share the more accurate version." 

3. "Recognize that acquaintances and casual friends may turn out to be on a different side in the fight against deception and oppression." 

a. "Don’t be a jerk on purpose, but if a casual acquaintance tries to call you out for being too picky, too uncivil, maybe even mansplaining, be careful."

  • "Check your behavior, and make sure you’re not guilty of being a mansplainer, whitesplainer, etc., but then get back to work."

b. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing.”

  • "When we witness oppression, abuse, or harassment and do nothing, we allow it to continue, to gain inertia, to be normalized."
  • Avoid "the bystander effect. The more observers there are, the more individuals rely on others to take action."
  • "While the appropriate response in any situation is highly contextual, oppression demands a response."

C. "Education ... Empower your students to do the same."

1. Don't settle.

"Critical pedagogy is about raising one’s critical consciousness, empowering students to be transformative agents in the world."

  • "Don’t settle for instrumental uses of technology."
  • "Don’t stop with informal logic and historical fallacies."
  • "Help awaken your students to these new practices of digital deception, and help them face them effectively ... they need this knowledge."

2. Some basic lessons:

  • "[M]aking a bot (even a sock-puppet account) is relatively easy."
  • "[S]ocial tools can be used for education, inspiration, and activism."
  • "[E]ven simple algorithms have unintended consequences."
  • "[W]ho is responsible when an algorithm does unexpected harm is a complex question."

3. Some core issues to explore:

  • "Digital identity ... how online identity is created, managed, and represented."
  • "Digital citizenship ... [to] hel[p] students 'think critically about the "rules" of citizenship on the web' and how they will engage in online environments."
  • "Representation ... the realm of online harassment, systemic prejudices, and ... the various identities that impact how one is received and allowed to perform online ... [as well as] [u]nderstanding the various racist and sexist underpinnings of supposed neutral platforms and programs."
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