Vaccine deniers are embracing Robert Malone, an infectious disease researcher who pushes widely discredited claims about COVID-19 vaccines, as a credentialed voice who affirms their distrust of the overwhelming scientific consensus about the pandemic. Malone — who in the late 1980s made a discovery that contributed to research on mRNA vaccines — was catapulted into the public eye after he was featured on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in December.
Discuss: Why has Malone gained such prominence among vaccine deniers? What role do Malone’s credentials play in his popularity among this group? What do other experts with Malone’s credentials say about his claims? What does it take for consensus to emerge among scientists?
Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to further explore the impact Malone has had on misinformation about COVID-19 and the mRNA vaccines.
Russia has been pushing disinformation about Ukraine since 2014, but American intelligence officials and other experts told The New York Times that they’ve seen an increase in false propaganda narratives in recent months. Russia is also trying to use information influence operations to exacerbate social divisions in Ukraine — similar to its efforts to polarize American voters in 2016.
Idea: Divide students into groups and assign each group one theme from this fact sheet on top Russian disinformation narratives. Then, discuss: How do these narratives seek to provoke or manipulate people’s emotions? Why is propaganda often designed to divide or polarize people?
Children’s media and news programs have faced a tough task in covering the pandemic and explaining it to a young audience. But they’ve done so with “a level of clarity and directness in their pandemic coverage that can be hard to find” in news sources for more adult audiences, writes Kate Cray of The Atlantic. Sesame Street, for instance, teamed up with CNN to tackle COVID-19 vaccine questions after officials recommended the shot for children ages 5 to 11. Kids’ media, Cray notes, shines for being straightforward, offering ample context and answering questions authentic to its audience.
Idea: Examine several of the kids’ news stories and segments cited in The Atlantic piece. How do they approach the news? Compare these stories to news coverage for older audiences. Consider factors such as word choice, context and tone. How does kids’ news take into account “children’s specific news needs"? Does this coverage still aspire to journalism standards?
Another idea: Ask students to find a recent news report on an issue they care about. How would they repackage or rework this coverage for younger audiences?
NO: Actor Morgan Freeman did not say that people should “stop taking tests” for COVID-19 and simply stay home if they don’t feel well, as this meme suggests. YES: This quote comes from a Jan. 4 tweet posted by conservative political commentator Matt Walsh. NO: This is not reliable medical advice. YES: People who have COVID-19 can be asymptomatic and “feel fine,” but still infect others.
NewsLit takeaway: Falsely attributing political messages to popular celebrities is a common tactic used by peddlers of disinformation to help their messages gain wider acceptance and reach. When you see a controversial message of any kind attributed to — or associated with — any celebrity, always proceed with caution, and be especially wary of claims involving well-liked figures with broad appeal.
NO: The “sculpture” in this video is not real. YES: It is a 3D animation created by the digital artist Andreas Wannerstedt, who is known for creating perfectly synchronized animations.YES: Engagement bait accounts — or accounts that share “amazing” content optimized to go viral — frequentlysharedigitalart out of context. YES: Other pieces of Wannerstedt’s digital art have also been presented out of context by similar accounts.
NewsLit takeaway: Photos and video purporting to capture “amazing” aspects of the natural world — everything from supposedly cute or unusual animals and stunning (but fake) space photos to incredible (and non-existent) geologicalformations and feats of physics — often go viral. After all, how tempting is it to “like” a video of fast tortoises or other seemingly incredible aspects of nature? But be aware that these types of photos and videos are commonly used as “engagement bait” by accounts seeking to build up large social media followings at all costs, even when it means passing off digital fakes as genuine.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
A spate of false rumors concerning the size and popularity of the Canadian “Freedom Convoy” trucker protest against government vaccination mandates has been circulating online since mid-January and includes a number of videos presented in false contexts.
People have “a human right” to accurate information about the pandemic “based on scientific data and not fake news,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 28. He also called for journalists and scientists to reach out to those who have been misled by false information and treat them with respect.
Does America have a “hyperbole habit”? Columnist Damon Linker thinks so — and argues that this tendency toward constant alarm and panic is “exhausting, numbing, and radicalizing us.”
The pandemic’s disruption of schools has prompted The Associated Press to kick off a two-year initiative to partner with local newsrooms to “deepen” education coverage.