Amid growing public obsession with true crime stories, conspiracy theories surrounding the Nov. 13 murders of four University of Idaho students spread rapidly on TikTok. Before a suspect’s recent arrest, amateur sleuths online became emotionally invested in the case and made public accusations against people cleared as suspects by police — spurring a defamation lawsuit. Experts say false information surrounding criminal cases can impact investigations, revictimize loved ones and sensationalize violence.
Discuss: Why are we drawn to crime stories? Why do you think conspiracy theories ran rampant following this murder case? What responsibility do we all have in what we share on social media? What is “rubbernecking”? Individually, how can we avoid sensationalizing violent crimes when commenting online? What real-world consequences have you observed as a result of social media activity?
Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to further explore the impact of conspiracy theories involving violent crime and to examine an individual's responsibility for what they share online.
This NPR profile traces the journey of a popular yoga teacher who fell down the rabbit hole of QAnon conspiracy theories online during the pandemic. Guru Jagat — who died of a pulmonary embolism in August 2021 — shared fringe theories with students and on her podcast, including false beliefs about the coronavirus being sprayed in airplane chemtrails and artificial intelligence mind control. One researcher noted that QAnon may resonate with some yoga practitioners “because both communities share the idea of a higher truth accessible to a select few.”
Discuss: Why do conspiracy theories appeal to people? Although plenty of yoga practitioners don’t follow QAnon, what similarities does the NPR piece highlight between yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thinking? What do you think of the so-called “wellness to QAnon pipeline” phenomenon? Why are people especially vulnerable to health and wellness misinformation?
Newspapers in three of Alabama’s largest cities are stopping the presses next month and will become digital-only publications, following a growth in online readership and a decline in print circulation. The shift in medium has spurred questions about how the loss of a printed newspaper will affect communities, including concerns for residents without digital access.
Discuss: Does your community still have a printed newspaper? How do you get your news? How does the medium — print, television, radio, digital, etc. — impact how news is delivered and curated?
Idea: Have students conduct an informal survey of family and friends asking how they get their news. Did students notice any patterns among different age groups? Have students compare their observations with findings in this fact sheet from Pew Research Center on news consumption trends.
NewsLit takeaway: The unfounded rumor that Hamlin’s collapse was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine echoed the debunked claims in Died Suddenly, a pseudo-documentary that cobbles together clips of athletes fainting to make spurious claims about the safety of the vaccines.
As fans sought credible information in the immediate aftermath of Hamlin’s collapse, many found conspiratorial and evidence-free rumors about alleged increases in such incidents and baseless assertions blaming COVID-19 vaccines. This fits a pattern: Distributors of disinformation often exploit high-profile and emotional moments by pushing unfounded claims to an information-hungry public.
NO: Dr. Natalia Solenkova, an intensive care unit doctor based in Florida and outspoken vaccine advocate, did not publish a tweet saying she “will never regret the [COVID-19] vaccine … even if it turns out [to be] actual poison.” YES: This is a fabricated image of a tweet impersonating Solenkova. YES: The prominent podcast host Joe Rogan presented the tweet as real and dedicated more than 10 minutes to it on a recent episode. He later apologized for spreading the hoax and deleted the segment that included it.
NewsLit takeaway: Fabricated tweets are easy to create and can be extremely effective at spreading harmful misinformation, especially when they are amplified to massive audiences online. The most common sign of a fake tweet is the lack of a live URL — because fake tweets are typically fabricated or doctored images, they go viral as alleged screenshots, often alongside claims that they’ve since been deleted. This particular example included another obvious red flag: It exceeded Twitter’s 280-character limit. But cognitive biases like confirmation bias can cause people to ignore such warning signs and embrace messages that support their existing ideas and beliefs. Skepticism and critical thinking about viral claims — especially those that are pushed by partisan figures — can help reduce the spread of misinformation.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
Social media helped fuel violent attacks on Brazil’s top government buildings on Jan. 8, with online activism and disinformation about the country’s recent presidential election spreading ahead of the riots on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, according to researchers.
This month marks the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and misinformation about the events of that day and the committee hearings are still spreading. USA Today has this roundup of Jan. 6 fact checks to help sort fact from fiction.
When it comes to election falsehoods, the 2022 midterms offer plenty of takeaways on how misinformation spreads and strategies to combat it. The Brennan Center for Justice recently highlighted three lessons on misinformation from the midterms — focusing mostly on election deniers and social media networks — and included some recommended solutions.
The resignation of Mexico’s most-watched news anchor, Denise Maerker, is raising questions about whether her “brand of restrained coverage” and goal of providing impartial reporting has a place in a Mexican media landscape that has become more polarized amid the president’s adversarial relationship with the press.
As video games become more visually sophisticated, footage from war-themed video games is contributing to misinformation about the Russia-Ukraine war.
New Jersey librarians were the driving force behind that state’s new information literacy law, which requires public schools to teach media literacy to K-12 students.
The affluent town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, has not one, not two, but THREE local news publications that launched last year after the community’s longtime weekly shifted to more regional coverage. (Talk about a healthy local news scene!)
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