Fact checking is activism: Using the ACT UP method of source evaluation

This post was submitted by Megan Margino Marchese, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Farmingdale State College. 

Academic librarians are well-versed in teaching students the importance of credible sources. Imparting research skills, fostering a critical perspective, and equipping students with a discerning eye when searching for information are roles that are very familiar to librarians. In a pre-pandemic world, these abilities would be explained as vital for assignments throughout students’ college careers. Now, however, being information literate is more crucial than ever. Not only important for assignments, evaluating information is necessary for everyday life, particularly in a pandemic. Dawn Stahura’s (2020) LibGuide, “ACT UP: Evaluating Sources,” explains the ACT UP method of evaluating sources as a social justice action.

An acronym representing the importance of assessing resources’ authors, currency, truth, bias, and privilege, ACT UP presents familiar strategies while adding an additional perspective on equality and acting against privilege. Stahura (2020) writes that “source evaluation is social justice work” and “fact checking is activism.” ACT UP represents moving away from passive media consumption and becoming “informed cultural producers of information” when sharing on social media. This idea extends beyond the content of many information literacy classes and connects students to issues in their lives outside of college, instead of only relating to a class assignment. 

The ACT UP guide features sections on pushing against privilege, evaluating news, filter bubbles, and COVID-19. Stahura (2020) explains privilege in publishing, journal gatekeeping, and offers resources to connect with academics and experts from diverse backgrounds. This research guide extends beyond the usual evaluation of authors’ qualifications to consider their diversity. It is important to research works from a range of voices and perspectives. Stahura (2020) highlights the drawbacks of “reproducing sameness” by exclusively citing white male authors as they bring forth a limited set of experiences. Following the ACT UP method of resource evaluation encourages the inclusion of diverse perspectives in research.

Further, the ACT UP guide also explains how algorithms affect searching on sites such as Google and Facebook to show results based on search history. Known as the filter bubble, these algorithms reduce the likelihood of finding new information or contrasting viewpoints. Stahura (2020) recommends “bursting your filter bubble” by choosing a variety of news sources and reading contrasting positions in order to not participate in confirmation bias.

This guide also features useful tips for evaluating news, including researching claims and author credentials. Consuming credible sources has always been important for research, but is now critical in a pandemic. It is necessary to “think before you share” on social media in order to limit the spread of misinformation as false claims can affect people’s lives. Holding your breath to test for the coronavirus was one example of a viral false claim near the start of the pandemic that was believed and shared by many (O’Rourke, 2020). ACT UP encourages readers to investigate if an article’s claims are supported by research and provides a list of fact-checking tools. Readers are also enabled to use research skills not only for coursework, but in their real lives, such as searching for COVID-19 information. This resource also features guidance on how to read scientific studies on the coronavirus, equipping readers with the tools needed to parse technical papers despite a non-technical background.

The LibGuide, ACT UP: Evaluating Sources presents an alternative to other source evaluation acronyms with a social justice focus. Its activism and pandemic-centered perspective highlights the connections between research for coursework and research needed in everyday life. 

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