The violent storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC yesterday, during the electoral college confirmation of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President of the United States, shows why being information literate is important. Disinformation being spread in the US, particularly by the current president, incited mobs in a dangerous and disruptive insurrection, the likes of which have not been seen since 1814.
One of the main tenets of information literacy (IL) is that we should be critical to our sources of information, and use those that are reliable. But that’s difficult when the President of the United States (POTUS) – arguably the most powerful person in the world – spreads conspiracy theories and other disinformation about how the election “was stolen” from him. The internet provides multiple platforms for this disinformation to spread instantaneously, providing an echo chamber for Trump supporters to reinforce their beliefs.
POTUS’s followers get their information mainly from biased, conservative channels like Fox News and Breitbart News, social media, QAnon (supports fringe conspiracy theories), and from POTUS himself. Trump’s megaphones, Twitter and Facebook, have now locked his accounts for 12 hours to prevent the spread of his lies and his encouragement to those rioting. POTUS is being censored.
Trump calls media “thieves and crooks,” sowing distrust in reliable newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and encouraging his supporters to rely on him for their information – an obvious characteristic of authoritarianism. This is dangerous for a democracy, where citizens vote for their government representatives based on the information they read and hear.
This sad chapter in American history can thereby be blamed on ignorance, caused by poor information literacy skills. Too many citizens have relied on biased sources of information. Perhaps, if people had consulted more reliable sources of information instead of believing blindly in a delusional president, the events of the past 12 hours could have been prevented.