Misinformation researchers and medical experts are expecting anti-vaccination propaganda to spike online following the authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The tactics might include strong appeals to emotion, tragic stories presented out of context and the use of code words — such as "C0vid" (spelled with a zero), “wax seen” or unicorn emojis for vaccines — to skirt automated content moderation on social media.
Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to help students consider how coded language is used to spread misinformation.
Ten “superpolluter” publishers drive as much as 69% of interactions with misinformation about climate change on Facebook, according to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate. Facebook announced in February that it would add labels to some posts about climate change directing people to credible information on the subject, but “The Toxic Ten” report found that more than 90% of the articles in its sample did not carry these labels.
Discuss: How should social media platforms handle posts that contain misinformation about climate change? Should they remove them? Label them? Or try something else? Should digital ad platforms like Google’s AdSense refuse to place revenue-generating ads on websites that push climate change misinformation? Why or why not? Why do you think climate change is a common target of misinformation?
In journalism, what does objectivity really mean? The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago created an “Objectivity Council” to explore this question and reflect on how to make the news organization’s coverage “as free of bias as it can be,” writes Neil Holdway, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor. Complete objectivity, Holdway notes, “is an impossible goal.” Journalists instead “should strive for objectivity by acknowledging our biases, and endeavoring to keep those biases and our emotions out of our reporting.”
Discuss: Do you agree with Holdway that journalists should try to keep “biases and our emotions out of” news coverage? Can biases ever be eliminated from journalism? Can they be minimized? Holdway also writes, “Balance isn't necessarily about reporting all sides. It is about listening to all sides.” Should newsrooms devote equal coverage to views that are “simply incorrect” or “verifiably wrong?” How do balance and fairness relate to notions of objectivity? What are some features of fair and accurate news coverage?
NO: COVID-19 vaccines do not contain a bioluminescent marker called luciferase. NO: COVID-19 vaccines do not contain tracking devices. YES: Emerald Robinson, the White House correspondent for Newsmax, a conservative news outlet, pushed both of these false claims in a Nov. 1 tweet. YES: According to the Snopes fact-checking site, “Luciferase is a genuine scientific term that refers to an enzyme capable of emitting light,” such as in fireflies. YES: The enzymes are commonly used in research, including some research for COVID-19 vaccines, to trace how viruses and vaccines interact with cells. NO: The vaccines themselves do not contain these enzymes. NO: The luciferase enzymes are not related to Satan or the Book of Revelation.
NO: COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause cancer or HIV. NO: Extensive data from clinical trials and from the global vaccine rollout — which now tops 7 billion administered doses — show no link between the shots and cancer or HIV. YES: Multiple screenshots of comments — referred to as SCs in the post — were shared by this same account as an attempt to “support” this claim. NO: These anecdotes aren’t evidence of a connection.
NewsLit takeaway: Rumors that mistake coincidental events — in this case, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines with anecdotes of people getting diagnosed with cancer and HIV — rely on the logical fallacy of questionable cause, or confusing correlation with causation. Additionally, this rumor commits the base rate fallacy by ignoring the typical rate at which people are diagnosed with cancer and HIV — and failing to account for the growing percentage of the population that is vaccinated. In other words, with 67% of the American population now vaccinated with at least one dose, a significant portion of people who are diagnosed with cancer — or any other health condition — will also, coincidentally, be vaccinated. These same fallacies have driven falsehoods about coincidental deaths and COVID-19 cases as well as misinformation involving the vaccinated in Israel.
NO: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis did not say that Florida schools will no longer require vaccinations for polio, measles and mumps. YES: DeSantis said in an Oct. 28 press conference that “in Florida there will be no mandate on school children” to get the COVID-19 vaccine. YES: The state of Florida requires children to receive a number of vaccines before they can enroll in public school, including the polio vaccine and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
NewsLit takeaway: Outrage and anger are powerful drivers of engagement on social media, and sharing comments, photos and video clips out of context can be easy ways to provoke these emotions. While this post might initially seem like an accurate representation of the retweeted statement from DeSantis, it is grossly misleading. However, social media users casually scrolling through their feeds may react without pausing long enough to figure this out — especially if they have strong feelings about the importance of vaccines or strong partisan opinions about DeSantis. If DeSantis had actually repealed all vaccine mandates for Florida schools, it would have made national headlines.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
Boston TV news anchor Latoyia Edwards wrote about her decision to wear braids on air and why “authentic representation matters,” including in the news industry.