Guest post by David Haynes, author of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval, 2nd edition: Understanding metadata and its use
Use of metadata by the security services
“Metadata tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content” (Schneier 2015, p.23)
If anyone wondered about the importance of metadata, this quote by Stuart Baker of the US National Security Agency should leave no-one in any doubt. The Snowden revelations about the routine gathering of metadata about international telephone calls to or from the United States continues to have repercussions today (Greenwald 2013). Indeed Privacy International (2017) has identified the following types of metadata that is gathered or could be gathered by security agencies:
- Device used
- Length of call
“Metadata in aggregate is content” as Jacob Appelbaum observed when the Wikileaks controversy first blew up (Democracy Now 2013). In other words when metadata from different sources is aggregated it can be used to reconstruct the information content of individual communications.
Invasion of privacy or personal benefit?
These concerns extend well beyond the use of metadata by Governments and the security services. The social media giants prosper by exploiting personal data and targeting digital advertising. Personal profiles of targeted individuals are based on metadata about online use and are the basis of online behavioural advertising. Cookies and other tracking technologies can monitor the online activity of an individual to predict future behaviour. Metadata about online sessions reveals a great deal about an individual and his or her life. This may extend to gathering information about friends, family, colleagues and other contacts.
The upside of this is that metadata is a powerful tool to facilitate use of online services, by remembering users’ preferences and delivering content that is more likely to be of interest or relevance to them. This has to be balanced against the risks associated with online disclosure of personal data.
Metadata describes an information object whether that be raw data or more descriptive information about an individual. This is important because the treatment of metadata has become a political issue. Personal data, especially data that reveals opinions, attitudes and beliefs is potentially very sensitive. Use of this personal data by service providers or by third parties can expose users to risks such as nuisance from unwanted ads, harassment from internet trolls or fraud through identity theft, if the data is not held or transmitted security. Many digital advertisers would say that because the data is aggregated it is not possible to identify individuals – i.e. the data is anonymised. However this is no protection against privacy breaches as has been demonstrated by Narayanan and Shmatikov (2009) and others.
Daniel Rosenberg (2013) makes a nice distinction between data, facts and evidence. Data if true may be a fact, but if false ceases to be a fact. Samuel Arbesman (2012) in his book ‘The Half Life of Facts’ introduced the idea that in a given period half the certainties that we had are shown to be false or are superceded by new understandings and that they cease to be ‘facts’. Data, whether it is true or not, continues to be data, but is only factual if true. Perhaps there is some way of recording the reliability of information or data so that it can be exploited appropriately. Many of the arguments and counter-arguments on climate change for instance centre on the quality and veracity of the evidence used by each side of the debate. This idea is not new, as medical researchers have for some time evaluated the quality of research used to make clinical decisions. This information about the quality and reliability of data is metadata.
Metadata is political
Metadata has become a political issue because of its use by security agencies and because of wider privacy issues in the commercial world. Anyone who had asked the question ‘What does metadata matter?’ prior to 2013 will realise just how important a bearing it has on current political issues. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures’ (United States 1791). A lot hangs on the interpretation of privacy as Solove (2011) has so eloquently discussed in his book ‘Nothing to Hide’. ‘Fake news’ is not new, but the phenomenon has reared its head in recent elections and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Good governance also depends on a good understanding of metadata and accountability for past actions.
Metadata for information management and retrieval
In the new edition of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval, published in January 2018 I consider the origins of metadata and look at the ways in which it is used for managing information resources. The ethical dimensions of metadata are explored and issues such as governance, privacy, security and human rights are considered. The book also discusses the digital divide and the potential that metadata has for making information accessible to wider audiences.
Metadata has an important role in politics and ethics. How then do we manage it to best effect?
Haynes, D (2018) Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval: understanding metadata and its use. ISBN 9781856048248. Facet Publishing. London, 2018, 267pp. http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/title.php?id=048248
You can follow David on Twitter @JDavidHaynes
Arbesman, S., 2012. The half-life of facts : why everything we know has an expiration date,
Democracy Now, 2013. Court: Gov’t Can Secretly Obtain Email, Twitter Info from Ex-WikiLeaks Volunteer Jacob Appelbaum. Available at: https://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/5/court_govt_can_secretly_obtain_email [Accessed March 21, 2017].
Greenwald, G., 2013. NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order [Accessed July 7, 2014].
Narayanan, A. & Shmatikov, V., 2009. De-anonymizing Social Networks. In 2009 30th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. IEEE, pp. 173–187.
Privacy International, 2017. Privacy 101. Metadata. Available at: https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/53 [Accessed March 23, 2017].
Rosenberg, D., 2013. Data before the Fact. In L. Gitelman, ed. “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 15–40.
Schneier, B., 2015. Data and Goliath: the hidden battles to collect your data and control your world, New York, NY: W.W.Norton.
Solove, D.J., 2011. Nothing to Hide: the false tradeoff between privacy and security, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
United States, 1791. U.S. Constitution Amendment IV, United States.
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In the past year, the term “fake news” first began to be used broadly, as part of the immediate media analysis and critique of the way false information easily circulated during the 2016 Presidential Election. Previously, fake news referred to made-up or distorted news, as evident in the kind of comedy routines we see on TV or read about in satirical publications, either in print or online. But soon thereafter, the term fake news itself was appropriated in a new and more cynical way to attack prominent news sources that countered in any way the narrative of “alternative facts” being presented. Welcome to the “post-truth era” and one of the many literacy challenges we face in today’s connected world. The term “Post-truth” was the topic of a book by Ralph Keyes in 2004, but took on new relevance in 2016 to describe the proliferation of misleading and untruthful information communicated by the famous and unknown through social media and other sources. The 2016 Oxford Dictionaries’ identified “Post-truth” as the international word of the year, and describes a situation “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
This is the environment in which we celebrate and promote UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week 2017, which runs from October 25 through November 1, 2017. A variety of terms are used for this crucial set of abilities and dispositions that help us to navigate through what are now particularly turbulent seas of information: Information literacy, media and information literacy, digital literacy, information fluency, and even Google literacy. Regardless of what it is called, having a command of literacies connected to information has taken on a critical importance for informed citizens in today’s complex and connected social media ecosystem. All of these approaches to literacy have value and advance critical thinking and learning in today’s world. We have contributed to this discussion by developing metaliteracy as a pedagogical framework for advancing critical and reflective thinking.
In 2016, we wrote an essay that addressed one of the significant concerns in a post-truth world and did so from an educational perspective. How can we learn to reject fake news in the digital world? focuses on the dangers of consuming, producing, and sharing false information. We argue that we need a reflective and participatory approach to address these challenges, given the unfortunate circumstances in which truth has been questioned in today’s political and social media environments. Because of metaliteracy’s emphasis on the active contribution of ideas in these spaces, we argued that, “Metaliteracy asks that individuals understand on a mental and emotional level the potential impact of one’s participation.” Doing so goes beyond effectively using the technology to seeing oneself as a responsible participant who carefully reflects on one’s own thinking and actions in these environments.
From our viewpoint, we are especially interested in exploring reflective learning as a way to empower individuals to continuously adapt to changing technologies while being responsible consumers and producers of digital information. Through this work, we are involved in expanding the roles of learners even further from consumer of information to participant, communicator, author, and researcher.
As an extension of these ideas, we focus specifically on several key components of metaliteracy in this blog post. Metaliteracy expands the understanding of UNESCO’s media and information literacy in our collaborative, social media-infused online environment with a focus on four learning domains. Yet metaliteracy and media and information literacy (MIL) have components in common, and strive toward informed, ethical, and engaged use and creation of information.
We have published several articles and two books about metaliteracy, including: Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners (London: Facet and Chicago: ALA, 2014) and Metaliteracy in Practice (London: Facet and Chicago: ALA, 2016). As noted in the latter book:
Metaliteracy applies to all stages and facets of an individual’s life. It is not limited to the academic realm, nor is it something to be learned once and for all. Indeed, metaliteracy focuses on adaptability as information environments change and [on] the critical reflection necessary to recognize new and evolving needs in order to remain adept. (Jacobson and Mackey, 2016, xv-xvi)
Metaliteracy is more than a model to be applied in academic settings and is an approach to better understand our everyday experience with living and learning in today’s connected world. It is especially pertinent now that we have many opportunities to contribute and collaborate through social media while also being faced with so much misinformation and division.
What might we learn from metaliteracy to help us through these trying times? Let’s start by examining this central image:
By organizing the rings around the metaliterate learner, this graphic emphasizes the importance of an ongoing desire to learn. As illustrated in this image, the metaliterate learner is a complex, whole person who engages in four domains of learning: metacognitive, cognitive, behavioral, and affective. This circular diagram shows that metaliteracy places an emphasis on metacognition, as seen in the upper left quadrant of the middle ring. Metacognition involves thinking about one’s own thinking, and self-regulating what still needs to be learned. But the other three learning domains are also important: the cognitive domain (the knowledge that comes with learning), the affective (changes in attitudes that accompany learning, as well as the willingness to have an open attitude), and the behavioral (what one is able to do following learning). The outer ring on the diagram shows the roles that learners take on in our participatory information environment, roles that should be informed by the learning goals and objectives. We are all learning all the time—there is no set point at which one starts to assume these active roles.
As we move to the outer ring, we see all of the active roles the metaliterate learner plays, empowered by a reflective core that includes an intersection of knowledge gained, changes in attitude, and ongoing development of abilities or proficiencies. The metaliterate learner is an active participant in social spaces, either in person or online, an effective communicator, using and adapting to technologies as needed, and a translator of information, moving from one form or mode to another, adapting and repurposing information and ideas through this process. In this context, the empowered metaliterate learner is an effective author of documents in various forms and both learner and teacher, exchanging these roles as someone who seeks and shares knowledge with others. This involves the learner role as collaborator of new knowledge, demonstrating the abilities to be an active producer and publisher of information. Because this work requires seeking and verifying information in many contexts, while asking good questions, the role of research is central to this approach, continuously evolving with the other interrelated roles.
The metaliterate learner diagram is informed by the metaliteracy learning goals and objectives that underpin the four domains of learning and support the metaliterate learner in the active roles. We encourage you to review the four goals and their learning objectives to gain a sense of their reach. As you consider them, note both the elements that extend beyond media and information literacy, and the abbreviations, which refer to the center ring in the diagram.
Also ask yourself the following reflective questions: Based on your own experience with today’s connected world, which role(s) have you played? Which roles would be especially helpful to encourage lifelong learners to play in today’s information environment?
With this understanding of metaliteracy, consider how it might inform navigating the fraught information environment in which we find ourselves. Being metaliterate means that we:
- Consider the format that information takes and the way in which it is delivered or shared: text, video, photos, statistics and other formats require the same scrutiny
- Critically evaluate how information is packaged and shared online and the extent to which professional-looking materials impact our perception of content
- Question the validity of information, regardless of source
- Observe our feelings when we engage with information that we do or don’t agree with
- Determine whether information is research-based or editorial
- Determine the value added by user-generated content
- Share information ethically and responsibly
- Reflect on our own beliefs in these spaces and challenge oneself to consider other viewpoints
- Always challenge our own beliefs and ask critical questions of information and of ourselves
UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week is the perfect time to explore metaliteracy and then share what you learn with others. This is a critical time of engagement to fulfill the early promise of the Web and social media as open and participatory environments for collaboration, dialogue, and discovery. Recently we have seen the negative and destructive aspects of how these technologies have been harnessed as well, from fake news and alternative facts to an overall post-truth reality. These developments have challenged our own optimism and assumptions about these spaces as creative environments for producing and sharing knowledge. In any context, however, metaliteracy provides a critical and reflective approach to learning that supports an everyday practice of asking good questions, being an active and ethical digital citizen, while being open to new environments, technologies, and perspectives.
We invite you to continue the conversation as you delve further into metaliteracy and explore some of the questions we’ve raised in this blog. You can find us on Twitter @Metaliteracy and be sure to follow us at our own blog via Metaliteracy.org. We welcome all of your questions and insights.
Thomas P. Mackey, Ph.D. and Trudi E. Jacobson, M.LS., M.A. originated the metaliteracy framework to emphasize the metacognitive learner as producer and participant in social information environments. They co-authored the first peer-reviewed article to define and introduce this model with Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy (2011) and followed that essay with the first book on this topic Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners (2014). This team co-authored the essay Proposing a Metaliteracy Model to Redefine Information Literacy (2013) and co-edited their most recent book for ALA/Neal-Schuman entitled Metaliteracy in Practice (2016). They are currently working on a new book entitled Metaliterate Learning for the Post-Truth World.
Trudi Jacobson, M.L.S., M.A., is the Head of the Information Literacy Department at the University at Albany, and holds the rank of Distinguished Librarian. She has been deeply involved with information literacy throughout her career, and thrives on finding new and engaging ways to teach students, both within courses and through less formal means. She co-chaired the Association of College & Research Libraries Task Force that created the Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education. Trudi is a member of the Editorial Board of Communications in Information Literacy. She freelances as the acquisitions editor for Rowman & Littlefield’s Innovations in Information Literacy series. Trudi was the 2009 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award.
Thomas P. Mackey, Ph.D. is Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Professor at SUNY Empire State College. He provides leadership for the undergraduate and graduate programs at the college, including the School for Undergraduate Studies, School for Graduate Studies, School of Nursing, The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, the Center for Mentoring Learning and Academic Innovation (CMLAI), and International Education. His research interests are focused on the collaborative development of metaliteracy as an empowering model for teaching and learning. Tom is a member of the editorial team for Open Praxis, the open access peer-reviewed academic journal about open, distance and flexible education that is published by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). He is also a member of the Advisory Board for Progressio: South African Journal for Open and Distance Learning Practice.
In the fifth edition of Expert Internet Searching, author Phil Bradley targets the recent phenomena of fake news. Bradley explains why it occurs, how it can be identified and how information professionals can lead the charge in combating it.
First published in 1999 (as The Advanced Internet Searcher’s Handbook), Expert Internet Searching covers the basics of search before going into detail on how to run advanced and complex searches using a variety of different search engines. The new edition references over 300 search engines and associated search tools and has been updated to include current trends including social media search, visual search, and discussion of the authority and validity of search results.
We all still see the rather silly claim that ‘it’s all on Google, so why do we need libraries and librarians?’ but I firmly believe that information professionals are needed now more than ever. It’s part of our role to help stem the tide of fake news, to open people’s eyes to the rich abundance of information available in so many different formats, and to assist them in working out what they need to know and the best way of getting it. When I was a child and I told my careers officer that I wanted to be a librarian she said ‘is it because you like books?’ and I said ‘No, it’s because I want the power’.
Find out more about the fifth edition of Expert Internet Searching
Phil Bradley is a renowned information specialist, internet consultant and conference speaker specializing in search. He has worked with a number of search engine companies to help them improve their products, and has a popular blog on internet search. He teaches internet search and social media skills to librarians and information professionals both within the UK and abroad. Phil was the CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) President for two years (2012–13). He also writes a column in the CILIP Update magazine and his previous titles with Facet Publishing include Social Media for Creative Libraries (2015).
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