GSAN: TikTok and true crime | Hamlin rumors | Brazil’s social media mayhem


Learn news literacy this week
TikTok and true crime | Hamlin rumors | Brazil's social media mayhem

Note: There will be no issue of Get Smart About News next Tuesday (following Martin Luther King Jr. Day). We’ll return to your inbox on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Top picks


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.


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.”


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.


Anti-vaxxers exploit Damar Hamlin collapse to spread evidence-free claims

A collage features several tweets from prominent accounts suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine was responsible for NFL player Damar Hamlin’s collapse during a recent football game, including one with a fabricated statement from the FBI. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “DANGEROUS FALSEHOODS.”

YES: Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in the chest during an NFL game on Jan 2. NO: There is no evidence that his cardiac arrest was related to COVID-19 vaccines. NO: There has not been an increase in athletes collapsing during sporting events and there is no evidence connecting COVID-19 vaccines to such incidents. NO: The FBI did not release a statement about Hamlin’s collapse. NO: Hamlin’s doctor did not post on Twitter that the NFL player received a booster shot shortly before the game. This message originated with an impostor account.

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.


Joe Rogan, others amplify fabricated tweet with anti-vaccine agenda

A tweet reads “COVID really was a cult” and features an image of a fabricated tweet from a doctor reading, “I will never regret the vaccine. Even if it turns out I injected actual poison and have only days to live. My heart and is was in the right place. I got vaccinated out of love, while antivaxxers did everything out of hate. If I have to die because of my love for the world, then so be it. But I will never regret or apologize for it.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FAKE TWEET.”

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.

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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Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Susan Minichiello (@susanmini), Dan Evon (@danieljevon), Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill). It is edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane) and Lourdes Venard (@lourdesvenard).

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