Worried about online misinformation amid race riots, the coronavirus pandemic, and political division, a Minnesota librarian is hosting online training for church congregations to spot disinformation and “make sense of everything around me.”
“As a librarian, I’m seeing this huge information landscape every day, and I feel like it’s incredibly overwhelming for people,” Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota, librarian Rachel Wightman told Business Insider.
“We’ve all spent this past year in this hyped-up environment where everything feels urgent and stressful, so I try to encourage people to take some space and say: ‘O.K., I’m going to figure out how to slow down and make sense of everything around me.'”
Wightman’s Mill City Church in Minneapolis was just miles away from George Floyd’s death, but her efforts have since ramped up amid the race riots and the unraveling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I remember the day our pastor was talking about racism and saying we have to check our inputs, meaning we have to get inputs from people who are different in order to understand this issue,” Wightman told BI. “That was the moment for me where it really clicked. I knew I had to continue giving people tools to get to these inputs.”
Her 6-week seminars, reviewing how online information “overlaps with your faith,” began even before the pandemic early in 2020, but have now expanded to churches around the country.
“I want to also bring in this perspective of Christianity,” she told BI. “As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, if you have this faith of loving your neighbors, in what spaces does your faith show up?'”
The seminars also focus on recognizing conspiracy theories and health misinformation, but Wightman called her training “politically neutral,” according to BI.
“We’re not here to talk about your opinion on the latest legislation or our president,” she added to BI. “We are here to talk about how do you evaluate what you’re finding online.”
Wightman provides the perspective of a Christian, librarian, and academic.
“A lot of people think librarians just sit around and read all day, so it’s been fun to bust that myth open a bit,” Wightman told BI. “We’re teachers; we’re about connecting people with information, and so be able to do that in a new way that feels so relevant is very exciting.”
The information age has caused many to diverge from faith and churches, including even some pastors, as BI reported.
“Misinformation is in some sense baked into white evangelical churches as many of them reject science, scholarship, and mainstream journalism,” University of Victoria professor Dr. Christopher Douglas told BI. “It’s a small step from disputing the science of evolution and climate change to doubting the efficacy of masks and vaccines in fighting the pandemic because it all comes from a common source, which is mainstream ‘secular’ science.”
“Public institutions like libraries, colleges, and universities all have a role to play in developing critical thinking and critical media literacy skills,” he added to BI.
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