GSAN: 2021 press freedom ranking | Vaccine misinfo | Teen’s Floyd video

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the general public Get Smart About News.


Learn about news literacy this week
2021 press freedoms ranking | Vaccine misinfo | Teen watchdog praised

NOTE: We’re making some big changes to Get Smart About News next year and need your help! Please take a few minutes to complete our annual reader survey and tell us how this newsletter can better meet your needs.

Blocking press freedoms

Journalism — “arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation” — is obstructed in a majority of countries around the world, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its new press freedom ranking.

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of 180 countries and territories, showed that journalism “is totally blocked or seriously impeded in … 73% of the countries evaluated.” The “data reflect a dramatic deterioration in people's access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage,” an overview of the ranking said. COVID-19 is being used to block availability to sources and reporting on the ground, making it hard to cover controversial stories. RSF questioned whether access will improve once the pandemic ends.

In addition, RSF noted a troubling measure of public mistrust of journalists, citing the results of a survey in 28 countries called the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. It found that nearly 60% of those who responded believe “journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false” when in actuality, journalism combats “infodemics” of misinformation and disinformation, RSF said.

The United States advanced one place (to 44) with its press freedom categorized as “fairly good,” RSF said, despite unprecedented numbers of assaults against and arrests of journalists (about 400 and 130, respectively).

Norway remained at the top of the list for the fifth year, and Finland held on to its second-place spot while Sweden reclaimed its third-place ranking. Totalitarian countries once again claimed the bottom three places — Turkmenistan (178), North Korea (179) and Eritrea (180). Malaysia, which recently enacted a law against what authorities deem false content, dropped the most in the ranking — 18 spots to 119.


Viral rumor rundown

NO: There is no evidence that Black Lives Matter activists or anyone identifying as “Antifa” — an unofficial anti-fascism movement — started a fire at a church in Minneapolis on April 19. YES: The church caught fire the night before the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. YES: A Minneapolis Fire Department official told The Catholic Spirit, a publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, “There [are] no indications that the fire is associated with any civil unrest.” NO: The Instagram account that shared this rumor — @republicanparty — is not the official account of the Republican Party.

Note: The Instagram account that shared this false claim also promotes a “patriotic clothing brand.” Promoting disinformation on social media may be a strategy to increase traffic to that brand’s website, which is linked in the account’s bio.


NO: There is no link between messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 and autoimmune diseases or lung damage. NO: The mRNA vaccines do not alter your DNA. YES: The underlying science for the vaccines was under development prior to the pandemic. YES: These false claims were pushed last week in a viral video featuring Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician and major spreader of vaccine misinformation who believes in an array of baseless conspiracy theories. YES: Extensive medical trial data has proven the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 to be both safe and effective, a conclusion supported by global health authorities.

Note: A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate named Tenpenny a member of the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of 12 individuals and organizations responsible for up to 65% of anti-vaccine content on social media platforms.

Also note: According to a recent Monmouth University poll, “about 1 in 5 American adults remain unwilling to get the Covid vaccine.”



NO: These two photos of Palm Beach, a suburban beach town near Sydney, Australia, do not demonstrate that sea levels aren’t rising. YES: According to experts at NASA, sea levels in Sydney rose by nearly five inches during the 20th century. NO: This type of photo comparison is not a reliable way to measure changes in sea level. YES: There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is causing the Earth’s temperature to increase, and sea levels are rising as a result.

Note: You can explore the rate of change in global sea levels since 1880 on this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration webpage.

Related: “As extreme weather increases, climate misinformation adapts” (David Klepper, The Associated Press).


★ NewsLit Picks


“Darnella Frazier, Teen Who Filmed Floyd's Murder, Praised For Making Verdict Possible” (Rachel Treisman, NPR).

Shortly after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the death of George Floyd, attention turned to Darnella Frazier, the teenager whose 10-minute video showing Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck prompted a global outcry over racial injustice. When she saw police restraining Floyd on the ground, she began recording what was happening on her phone. That video, viewed by millions, is credited as “a central piece of evidence in Chauvin’s trial,” and many praised her bravery and called her a hero. Frazier, age 17 when she made the recording, posted on social media after the verdict: “George Floyd we did it!! … justice has been served.”



Quick Picks

“Young Vietnamese Americans Say Their Parents Are Falling Prey To Conspiracy Videos” (Kate Lý Johnston, BuzzFeed News).


“'Full Of Hatred And Fear': Disinformation On YouTube Divided A Dad And Daughter” (Bo Hamby, Rachel Martin and Steve Mullis, NPR).


“These student journalists are investigating a slavery burial ground on their college campus” (Angela Fu, Poynter).


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the educator version of Get Smart About News called The Sift® here.


Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.