Back before the election I was working on a book on the problems of living in “the stream” — this endless flow of stuff we read, retweet, and react to. My argument in that still unfinished work was that while the stream is useful and exciting it also warps our sense of reality in unhelpful ways. Forced to decide within seconds to retweet an inflammatory tweet or share a headline on Facebook we tend to make bad decisions that pollute the information environment and reduce the depth and complexity of our thought. The 2016 primary elections in the U.S. were going to be Exhibit A of this trend, with a nod toward the acceleration of these trends in the 2016 general election.
It was going to be a condemnation of the attention economy we’ve developed and its whole rotten ad-driven substrate, followed by a plea to return to some older visions of the web.
After the general election I felt both vindicated and weirdly distant. As I continued to work on the book it occurred to me that what the world needed, much more than a scholarly book or extended philippic, was a textbook or field guide that explained how to survive in this world of viral information flows and social media firehoses.
So in November I switched gears and began to write a textbook for web literacy that focused on the question of what web literacy for stream culture looked like. What I found is that it had to be quick and tactical. Users are presented with hundreds of headlines and statements a day through social media, and asked to retweet or share that information with little or no background. Students need skills that help them to get closer to the truth in between the few minutes between when they see something and when they decide to share it. Conversations with researcher Sam Wineburg confirmed this need for quick and frugal fact-checking basics.
So I wrote this book: Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. It started out as a Google Doc, the bulk of which I wrote over Christmas vacation, but I’ve just transferred it all to a Pressbooks site so everyone can use it. It’s still rough and unfinished in places, but it’s in a shape that’s suitable for classroom use.
I don’t mean it to replace what we do with critical thinking and web efforts around digital identity, making, and collaboration. But I think it fills a gap that I’m not seeing other resources address. And it’s a real important gap.
Here are some other formats (though remember this is a blog post — if it is substantially after the publish date, check Pressbooks for newer versions).
Comments and suggested edits are welcome.