By: Jamie Gregory
With the 2020 Presidential election looming and digital learning on the rise, educators realize that a focus on “fake news” is insufficient. Consider the use of the term “infodemic,” a proliferation of misinformation and disinformation which “can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.” For more varied and nuanced examples of misinformation, consider using this infographic “Beyond ‘Fake News:’ 10 types of misleading information” from EAVI (the European Association for Viewers Interests), Media Literacy for Citizenship.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 47% of U.S. adults think the Trump administration is the main source of false or misleading information about the coronavirus in the U.S., breaking down to 85% of Democrats and only 4% of Republicans. 33% of U.S. adults think the mainstream national news is the main source of false or misleading information about the coronavirus in the U.S., breaking down along party lines again with 2% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans agreeing. That much distrust in mainstream national news compels educators to provide learning opportunities for students, especially during the pandemic when completing more work online and independently has become necessary. Consider using varied and nuanced examples of misinformation such as those provided below.
“Fake” news creators: Ask students to read about “fake” news creators, starting with this article from NPR about a fake news writer in Macedonia who admitted that what she created wasn’t entirely fake but exaggerated or amplified to distort emotional reactions. Discuss possible free speech limitations on those who create misinformation. Have students read Facebook’s policy on “Working to Stop Misinformation and False News” and discuss the role social media plays in the spreading of information.
Bogus (doctored images): Subscribe to the News Literacy Project’s free weekly newsletter, the Sift, for many more examples of doctored images. One example is this image of Emma Gonzalez. Was she originally ripping apart the Constitution, or is this image bogus? Students can discuss how images go viral based on political beliefs and emotional reactions. Challenge them to share images from their social media feeds which are misleading.
Pseudoscience: A lack of critical thinking skills can lead to life-or-death situations, as this example shows. Students can analyze the use of Facebook groups to spread scientific misinformation. Show this example, Stop Mandatory Vaccinations, and then share the story of a four year-old boy who died of the flu. Consider sharing this article about the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19, and ask students to share examples of COVID-19 pseudoscience shared on social media.
Propaganda: The chart helps students analyze how propaganda can actually be beneficial despite the negative connotation the word typically assumes. Consider this ad against vaping.
Conspiracy theory: An important example to illustrate the misinformation critical to propagating a conspiracy theory is Pizzagate. Have students analyze a website arguing that Pizzagate was real. Students can learn about a more recent conspiracy theory, QAnon, and how it has become more mainstream. Include the link to the QAnon website and how Twitter responded by removing content.
Any of these examples will beg the question, who in society is responsible for stopping the spread of misinformation that can seriously affect people’s lives? Or do we have the right to create and spread misinformation with the individual assuming responsibility to be a critical consumer of information? Most of us will agree to a happy medium, guaranteeing free speech rights while protecting citizens from deliberately harmful information.
Jamie M. Gregory is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media working as the Upper School Librarian and journalism teacher at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, SC.