On Tuesday September 12th the ISKO UK Annual Conference discussed fake news and post-truth issues, including a plenary discussion about Developing a Knowledge Organisation Community Response. This whiteboard captured the main takeaway ideas.

  1. Develop a non-commercial public search engine as a cooperative community effort. I am going to call this idea WikiSearch to convey the sense of a community collaboration. The key attributes of WikiSearch would be that it would be advertising free, attempt to restore topical relevance as the primary retrieval and ranking mechanism, and avoid the filter bubble detractions of personalised search. Updated comments 20170925. The search engine https://duckduckgo.com is an example of a search engine that doesn’t track personal data or provide targeted advertising, although it does derive revenue from advertising: (i) To what extent does this match the needs of a WikiSearch tool – what else may be needed? (ii) Given that such tools have been around for a while (DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008) to what extent could this type of solution impact society if the commercial search engines command the vast majority of market share?
  2. Address/invoke the profit motive. This thread of the discussion contemplated whether the principles of truthfulness and objectivity in information dissemination could be monetised and made profitable, so that the commercial technology companies would have an economic incentive to deliver more balanced factual information services. One of the challenges to be faced is the highly profitable industry growing up around sensational and political fake news. To get an understanding about how people are monetising false information watch this 14 minute documentary by CNN: http://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/. Nevertheless factuality and objectivity could in principle be monetised. Dr. Glenda Cooper who spoke on the panel at ISKO raised the question ‘Could fake news be a good thing for journalists?‘, and went on to explain that the proliferation of fake news ‘Gives mainstream media a chance to show it has value based on “expertise and ethics, engagement and experience” (citing Beckett, 2017)’.
  3. Education. No matter what initiatives may or may not be possible on the supply-side of information publishing and dissemination, the ISKO audience were agreed that education and information literacy on the consumer-side were of paramount importance. Nick Poole, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP), who also spoke on the ISKO panel said ‘…we can – and must – educate the users of our services to value facts, evidence and authenticity, to guard themselves against misinformation, to question and to challenge and not to contribute to the distribution of false narratives.‘ Nick’s talk provided an excellent summary of the importance of education and the role that librarians and information professionals have to play. The full text is available at:  https://www.cilip.org.uk/news/evidence-trust-post-truth-world.
  4. Build a Pro-Truth Alliance. The conference audience proposed building a Pro-Truth Alliance of institutions to coordinate the efforts to tackle post-truth issues. Both ISKO UK and CILIP expressed their support for such an alliance. Please use the Comment or Feedback links on this blog to register your interest in joining such an alliance.
  5. Study of false narratives. The conference discussed the need to analyse and document the various manifestations of false narratives. By better understanding the types, causes and effects of fake news and the filter bubble, solutions can be developed. If you are aware of existing studies or want to propose one please use the Comment link on this post to share your thoughts.
  6. Build a Knowledge Organisation System (KOS). A KOS is a thesaurus, taxonomy, classification scheme or similar system that collects, describes and inter-relates all the concepts in a domain of knowledge. A KOS can be a primary source of information in its own right, as well as an index providing links to external information sources. I am building a KOS of fake news and post-truth concepts using an online tool. This will be made public later this year when a critical mass of content has been collected. Several members of the ISKO audience volunteered to contribute to this KOS. If you would like to join them please contact me via the Feedback link on this blog.

ISKO have recorded the speaker presentations and panel discussion for the Post-Truth session. The recording will be made available at ISKO UK’s website – announcement to follow once it is ready.