How do you identify inaccurate information? Who can help you?  

Librarians! 

As a librarian and information professional for almost a decade—with experience at universities and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Program—I know helping people find, verify and use information accurately is one of the foremost duties of my profession.  

We help people find the most relevant sources, verify sources are trustworthy (check the creator’s credibility, institution’s objectives, and accuracy of facts and figures quoted), then use the information accurately by acknowledging the sources and using correct quotes.  

Checking multiple sources to verify a citation is a trade skill for librarians. Our fear with artificial intelligence (AI) is the massive amount of information and the pace at which it’s generated is unprecedented.  

While AI can generate fake citations, for librarians who help and teach how to verify sources of information, it’s not a new challenge.  

At the San Jose State University (SJSU) Library, we recently had a student contact us on Live Chat about finding a research article. We looked thoroughly and couldn’t locate it. On persistent questioning, they confessed they found the “citation” on ChatGPT which they were using to write a term paper.  

While apps created with researchers in mind, like Scite Assistant, can help in citing credible sources, ChatGPT offers librarians the opportunity to engage more thoroughly with information and digital literacy, as we recently experienced at the SJSU library. 

How does one differentiate between an original artwork and an AI-generated work that resembles the artist’s style? Librarians can teach critical thinking skills in detecting details such as platform, metadata, publication information, and help patrons verify the information.   

Since the 2016 election, libraries have created resources and organized programs about recognizing fake news.  

In February 2017, the Office of Public Programs of The American Library Association hosted a program called “Post-Truth: Fake News and a New Era of Information Literacy” on how librarians prepare to teach students and community members about verifying the credibility of information.  

Librarians at SJSU co-created a guide on Fake News for visitors to understand how to verify information and check their own claims. SJSU shared Sources Unknown: Fake News on the need to investigate websites, their headlines, their authors, date of publication, and sources used.  

What is misinformation? How is it different from disinformation?  

Misinformation is false or fake news or incorrect information shared without the intent to deceive. Disinformation is also incorrect information but shared with the specific intention to deceive and mislead. 

Did former President Donald Trump get arrested? Did President Joe Biden announce troop deployment to Ukraine? Some photos and videos say so. These are called deep fakes: images and videos created by AI, which can generate persuasive false narratives and pose them as authentic. The spread of misinformation and disinformation will know no bounds because of people’s access to these generative technologies.    

What can you do?  

When finding information that looks credible and well-researched but is debated on extreme opposite sides—be it voter fraud, COVID-19 and vaccines, Roe v. Wade, or college admission scams—check sources like multiple newspapers and reliable websites that end with .org or .gov or .edu to verify the information.  

If you’re not sure how to evaluate their credibility, ask a librarian when you meet them in your local library or call them or use their online chat service. 

Misinformation can cause great harm. Consider that, in spite of including a disclaimer about AI-generated photos of Trump’s fictional arrest, the photos received 79,000 likes on Instagram. Users share and reshare photos without paying heed to the actual context. If they wait to chat with a librarian before sharing, the tide of misinformation can slow down.    

San Jose State University Librarian Mantra Roy says researchers may want to consult librarians to help them determine accuracy of sources and information. (Courtesy Mantra Roy)

A Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project, Mantra Roy has a doctorate in American Literature and has been a librarian for four years at San Jose State University. She has experience with the Global Libraries Program at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the WebJunction team of OCLC, academic expertise in a private and a public university library, and as a recent grantee of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.