By Kyle Plantz, Solutions Specialist
One morning in mid-March, amidst the chaos of public places closing and toilet paper shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I woke up to a text from my mom asking whether some information that a family member posted on Facebook about the coronavirus was true or not. I told her to do some research, look for trustworthy sources, and if she didn’t have time to verify it, not to share it.
A couple hours later, I got another text from her. “I checked out these ‘sources’ and they are known to be spreading misinformation,” she said. I was proud that she was skeptical at first and wanted to know more about how to sort fact from fiction. Thanks to social media and the proliferation of information online, it’s becoming easier for people to fall for misinformation in today’s digital age. As someone who works in journalism and media literacy education, I know that empowering individuals of all ages to be critical consumers and creators of media is an essential skill in the 21st century. This collection highlights the innovative ways that educators, governments, tech companies, and even medical professionals around the world are combating the rampant spread of misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on information and media literacy.
- After reading the Guardian article, define misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation; use Google, social media, or other online resources to find an example of each.
- What are some of the possible explanations for senior citizens' high rates of susceptibility to fake news?
- Discuss how social media companies have worked with government agencies to limit the spread of false information. How have those efforts been successful? What limitations are there for this approach?
- Should media literacy and critical thinking be taught in primary and secondary schools? Why or why not? Take a moment to assess your own level of comfort with media and news literacy; how did your formal education impact it?
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- Misinformation consists of mistakes: false or inaccurate information, sometimes intended to mislead. Disinformation is false information that is spread deliberately to deceive: purposeful lies and hoaxes. Malinformation is information that may be correct, but is intended to harm, such as gossip.
- Because senior citizens did not grow up with digital technology, many of them struggle to form an intuitive relationship to the Internet and computers, and basic security or fact-checking advice often assumes a level of basic comfort with navigating technology that seniors do not have. Digital content often lacks the same hallmarks of inauthenticity that some seniors were accustomed to seeing on disingenuous media forms such as tabloid magazines. Additionally, the effects of confirmation bias (the tendency to interpret new information in a way that confirms prior beliefs) increase with age, as do the effects of social isolation, and both contribute to the adoption and spread of fake news.
- Pinterest, Google, Twitter, and Facebook are collaborating with the World Health Organization to post content that disputes false information and remove potentially harmful content. For example, Google launched an “SOS Alert,” which directs people who search for “coronavirus” to news and other information from WHO. The initiative was expanded in other languages as well. The Arizona Secretary of State’s office is working with the social media companies to verify the accounts of county election administrators, so other people can easily identify them as reliable sources of information. Despite all of these efforts, there are still hundreds of thousands of people who have been exposed to or interacted with false information. And while some government officials have good relationships with the tech giants, there is still room for improvement.
- Student answers may vary.