GSAN: Disinformation immunity | Misinterpreted election videos | Black media map


Learn about news literacy this week
Disinformation immunity | Misinterpreted election videos | Black media map


Disinformation immunity

As countries around the world await the mass distribution of two promising vaccines for COVID-19, researchers and fact-checkers are warning that a surge of disinformation could threaten their acceptance and the efforts to immunize a larger percentage of the population.

A Dec. 2 report from the misinformation research organization First Draft warned that those who create and circulate vaccine-related falsehoods often exploit “data deficits,” or the imbalance between the intense public demand for information about the injections and the limited supply of verified information about them that is also clear and accessible. For example, the complexity of the mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has made it easy for bad actors to insert the false claim that the shots alter human DNA. (They do not.)

The report lists some of the false vaccine narratives that have recently gained traction on social media:

  1. The human immune system is more effective than a vaccine (FALSE);
  2. Vaccines are fueled by “Big Pharma” profit, not public health (FALSE);
  3. News organizations are only reporting positive news about the vaccines at the behest of “Big Pharma” (FALSE);
  4. COVID-19 vaccines are a secret attempt to control the population (FALSE);
  5. The vaccines were developed using aborted fetal cells (FALSE).

While medical experts cannot be sure yet about the exact percentage of people who need to take the vaccine to successfully stop the spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, recently said that the “overwhelming majority” of Americans need to be vaccinated to achieve widespread immunity. About 60% of Americans say they would definitely (29%) or probably (31%) get a vaccine for the coronavirus, according to a Dec. 3 Pew Research Center survey. But 21% say they do not intend to get vaccinated and are “‘pretty certain’ more information will not change their mind,” the survey found.

Note: On Dec. 3 Facebook announced that it would “start removing false claims about [COVID-19] vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts” from its platforms — but some experts worry that it’s too late for such measures to be effective against what has grown to be “a varied and powerful misinformation movement.”
Also note: Some TikTok users, including a number of doctors, have taken it upon themselves to push back against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by sharing their experiences as participants in trials and by creating viral videos with accurate information about the shots.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which have completed their third and final trial phase, will not severely injure or kill people who take them. YES: A variety of short-lived mild or moderate reactions to both vaccines — including soreness at the injection site, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain — have been documented during trial testing. YES: The development of COVID-19 vaccines is overseen by independent data and safety monitoring boards that can stop or pause the trials over safety concerns. YES: Trials for two vaccines — from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — were halted this fall after one participant in each experienced an adverse reaction. YES: Both trials resumed in late October.

Note: Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines entered phase three trials in July. More than 20,000 people took the Pfizer vaccine during its phase three trial, and about 15,000 people took the Moderna vaccine during its phase three trial. An equal number of people were given a placebo.


NO: The video in this post on the social media website Parler does not show suitcases of fraudulent ballots being pulled out from under a table. YES: The video shows standard ballot containers at the vote-counting center in State Farm Arena in Atlanta. NO: Election observers were not ordered to leave the room before these votes were processed or moved. YES: The ballots had previously been processed with election observers present for the Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s campaign. NO: This video is not evidence of voter fraud.

Note: This surveillance video was shared by lawyers for Trump at a Georgia Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Dec. 3. One America News Network, a Trump-friendly cable network with a history of publishing conspiracy theories and other falsehoods, broadcast the full hearing on YouTube. A clip from that coverage was later shared on Trump’s YouTube channel and elsewhere online.


NO: President-elect Joe Biden did not forget which foot he hurt and wear a protective walking boot on both his left and right foot on different days. YES: The photo on the left in this Facebook post has been doctored to add a walking boot and a mask. YES: The original of the photo on the left was taken in November 2018 when the Bidens adopted their dog, Major, from the Delaware Humane Association:

As the fact-check from Lead Stories (linked above) points out, this photo was posted to the Delaware Humane Association’s Facebook page more than two years ago.


★ NewsLit Picks


“Mapping Black Media” (The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York).

This recently created interactive map and directory provide a comprehensive roundup of nearly 300 publications primarily serving Black communities in the United States. The project by the Black Media Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York aims to fill the void in information about the range and variety of Black publications across the country. The database includes digital startups as well as long-standing legacy publications like the Michigan Chronicle in Detroit, which began publishing in 1936. It also covers niche publications, media serving “West Indian and African audiences, radio stations, nonprofit newsrooms and more.”


Quick Picks

“In 2020, Disinformation Broke The US” (Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News).

“Five myths about the news business” (David Chavern, The Washington Post).

“When a News Anchor Does the Government’s Job” (Ilana E. Strauss, The Atlantic).


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.