Re-thinking Information Ethics: Truth, Conspiracy Theories, and Librarians in the COVID-19 Era

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alethic rights, conspiracy theories, COVID-19, infodemic, information ethics


The COVID-19 pandemic is an international public health crisis without precedent in the last century. The novelty and rapid spread of the virus have added a new urgency to the availability and distribution of reliable information to help curb its fatal potential. As seasoned and trusted purveyors of reliable public information, librarians have attempted to respond to the “infodemic” of fake news, disinformation, and propaganda with a variety of strategies, but the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique challenge because of the deadly stakes involved. The seriousness of the current situation requires that librarians and associated professionals re-evaluate the ethical basis of their approach to information provision to counter the growing prominence of conspiracy theories in the public sphere and official decision making. This paper analyzes the conspiracy mindset and specific COVID-19 conspiracy theories in discussing how libraries might address the problems of truth and untruth in ethically sound ways. As a contribution to the re-evaluation we propose, the paper presents an ethical framework based on alethic rights—or rights to truth—as conceived by Italian philosopher Franca D’Agostini and how these might inform professional approaches that support personal safety, open knowledge, and social justice.