GSAN: 2021 press freedoms ranking | Vaccine misinfo | Teen watchdog praised

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Fake VP book scandal | Snapchat and free speech | Debunking Joe Rogan


Viral rumor rundown

NO: Officials at a facility for migrant children brought from the U.S.-Mexico border were not handing out a children’s book written by Vice President Kamala Harris. YES: A copy of Harris’ 2019 book Superheroes Are Everywhere was donated during a book and toy drive to an “emergency intake site” for unaccompanied migrant children at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. YES: The baseless claim that copies of the book were included in welcome kits at taxpayers’ expense and distributed to each child at the site originated with an erroneous report published by the New York Post on April 23. YES: Fox News — which, like the Post, is owned by the Murdoch family — also published the report. YES: The Post eventually added an editor’s note at the end of the story to update it with a correction after it had spread widely on social media. YES: Fox News also made updates and corrections to its report.

Note: The false assertion that the book was being given to each child at the facility appears to have been based on a photo of a single donated copy left on a cot.

Also note: Laura Italiano, the Post reporter who wrote the original report, announced her resignation from the paper on Twitter on April 27 and claimed she was “ordered to write” the false report. The Post issued a statement denying Italiano’s claim.



NO: 85% of Americans did not approve of President Joe Biden’s April 28 speech to a joint session of Congress — the first of his presidency. YES: According to a CBS News / YouGov poll, 85% of American speech-watchers — only 18% of whom identified themselves as Republicans — approved of it.

Note: As CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter noted, the television ratings for Biden’s speech were significantly lower than similar speeches by past presidents. But such ratings do not necessarily reflect the total reach of the speech because they can't take internet and other viewers into account.


NO: These are not rigged COVID-19 tests. YES: They are control swabs included with some test kits that ensure they are working properly.

Note: The claim that this photo was “taken secretly by a nurse” is an example of an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy in which the opinion or endorsement of an authority is used as evidence to support an assertion. Because the nurse isn’t named, this example could also be classified as an appeal to anonymous authority (also known as an appeal to rumor).


NO: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) did not remove the Church of the Nativity, officially recognized as the birthplace of Jesus, from its World Heritage List. YES: The screenshot in this Facebook post has been doctored to conceal the last two words in the actual headline: “in danger.” YES: UNESCO in 2012 added the site to its List of World Heritage in Danger because it had been damaged by water leaks. YES: The church was removed from the “in danger” list in 2019.

A screenshot of the 2019 report published by UN News showing the actual headline, which includes the words “in danger” at the end. A doctored version that recently went viral obscured these two words and generated outrage.

★ NewsLit Picks


“Can schools discipline for off-campus student speech? Court to take up First Amendment case.” (John Fritze, USA Today).

The legal dispute over a former Pennsylvania high school cheerleader’s profanity-filled post on Snapchat in 2017 may soon lead to one of the Supreme Court’s “most important decisions on student speech in a generation.” The case could help determine whether schools can discipline students for what they say off campus — an issue of growing importance in today’s information environment. Brandi Levy, then age 14, was kicked off the junior varsity cheerleading squad after venting her frustrations on Snapchat when she did not make varsity. (Snapchat posts are temporary, but a screenshot of Levy’s message circulated.) Some worry the court’s decision could curb First Amendment rights and “turn schools into speech police,” while others argue that schools should have authority to discipline off-campus speech, including bullying. The court’s decision in the case is expected in June.

Note: Some questions raised by this case aren’t new. Students’ free speech was at the center of Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court’s historic 1969 decision that ruled teachers and students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The court also ruled that school officials could not prohibit speech “only on the suspicion” that it could disrupt learning.



Quick Picks

Analysis: “Joe Rogan told his millions of listeners not to take his anti-vaccine advice seriously. Is it too late?” (Dominik Stecula and Matt Motta, The Washington Post).

  • Note: The Joe Rogan Experience was the most listened to podcast in the United States in 2020.
  • Also note: After he was criticized for recent comments dismissing the need for young people to get COVID-19 vaccinations, the popular podcast host reminded his listeners that his show is created as entertainment. A study by Stecula and Motta, the authors of this piece, found evidence that Rogan’s audience is more vaccine-hesitant than non-listeners. While they note their data is correlational, they said their findings came after Rogan repeatedly spread misleading COVID-19 information, including questioning the efficacy of masks and vaccines.

“Washington Post, New York Times, and NBC News retract reports on Giuliani” (Oliver Darcy, CNN Business).


“Deepfake satellite imagery poses a not-so-distant threat, warn geographers” (James Vincent, The Verge).


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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).

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