Newseum Education — March 2019
A recent measles outbreak in Washington state and warnings from the World Health Organization have brought renewed attention to the role social media plays in promoting misinformation about vaccines and anti-vaccine propaganda.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, Facebook and YouTube algorithms have been shown to recommend anti-vaccine groups and videos to users conducting searches with neutral terms such as "vaccines" or "vaccinations." The newspaper also reported that Facebook has allowed anti-vaccine groups to pay for sponsored posts that target women of child-bearing age, putting misinformation about vaccines in front of more mothers. This report was cited by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in letters to Facebook and Google, in which he urged them to take more responsibility for health-related misinformation on their platforms.
This latest social media controversy raises many questions: Is this a matter of public health or one of free speech? When does one take precedence over the other? And what role should companies play in policing content on their platforms?
A SAMPLING OF PRESS COVERAGE
- Ten threats to global health in 2019, World Health Organization
- How Facebook and YouTube help spread anti-vaxxer propaganda, The Guardian
- Anti-vaxxers are spreading conspiracy theories on Facebook, and the company is struggling to stop them, The Washington Post
- How Pinterest Jumped Into The Fight Against Health Misinformation, NPR
- If Facebook wants to stop the spread of anti-vaxxers, it could start by not taking their ad dollars, NiemanLab
- Teen who got vaccinated despite parents blames Facebook for spreading misinformation, The Hill
- Facebook says it will take action against anti-vaccine content. Here's how it plans to do it. The Washington Post
These moves by Pinterest, Facebook and Google all raise difficult questions about how aggregators should balance concerns about free speech with concerns about public health. As private companies, they are not technically bound by the First Amendment, but they are also mindful of their role as vehicles of free expression. What types of misinformation are harmful enough to merit censorship, if any? How and when should social media platforms make that determination? And how much should they be held liable for the consequences of misinformation?
While aggregators have a role in addressing this problem, we believe that media literacy training can do even more to inoculate the public against harmful health-related misinformation and propaganda. Our "E.S.C.A.P.E. Junk News" lesson plan provides tips for evaluating the quality and trustworthiness of information, while our "Weed Out Propaganda" lesson reveals common propaganda techniques to watch out for. We also offer a virtual class on "Fighting Fake News" that touches on the real-life consequences of phony news and ways to avoid it. If you wish to explore more with your students on how algorithms and paid promotions can influence search results — and underscore how the top results are not always the most accurate ones — check out our videos and lesson plans on decoding searches.
Finally, if you wish to delve more into the debate over the best ways to balance preserving free speech with fighting misinformation and propaganda, explore this critical debate on regulating bots from our Free Speech Essentials EDCollection.
Who should be the arbitrator of misinformation, propaganda and offensive content: the tech companies or the end-user? Tweet @NewseumED with your response and include the hashtag #NEDquestion.
NEWSEUMED IN THE COMMUNITY
- Conference Presentations: You can find us at the National Council for History Educators (NCHE) in Arlington, Va., on Friday, March 15, as we talk at 10 a.m. ET about "The Challenge of Truth: Fact Checking Historical Heroes." And, the following day we'll be presenting at ASCD Empower19 in Chicago on "Today's Free Speech Essentials for Tomorrow's Leaders" at 1:45 p.m. CT.
- Library/Community Center Programs: "Escape Junk News," our hands-on-session to help the public navigate today's media landscape and separate fact from fiction, hits three sites in the coming weeks. Check with the hosting group for details and registration information:
Our community educators will travel to libraries and community centers in the D.C. metro area that want to host this free program for adults. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to arrange a session.
- LGBTQ Rights Exhibit: The Newseum's newest exhibit, "Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement," looks at how protests after a police raid in New York's Greenwich Village 50 years ago galvanized the fight for civil rights for LGBTQ Americans. Stop by the Information Desk to pick up a student worksheet for the exhibit or download it in advance.
NEWSEUMED RESOURCES AND CONNECTIONS
- Women's History Month Resources: Our EDCollection, "Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less," provides a timeline, media map and lesson plans to learn about the suffrage movement and make present-day connections. Here's a compilation of other NewseumED resources to help you observe the month.
- Reveling in the Spotlight: A recent episode of the Tierney Education Podcast featured NewseumED's website in its "20 Tech Minutes for Teachers," emphasizing our free resources and offerings. A Cult of Pedagogy podcast last year included NewseumED.org in its "6 Tech Tools to Try." Thanks to both for spreading the word about us!
- First Amendment in the News: Did you know we have a handy, generic lesson plan that can be used with any First Amendment controversy in the news? Have your students debate the case before the Supreme Court involving the 40-foot-tall "Peace Cross" on public land in Maryland dedicated as a World War I memorial. At issue: Does the cross violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Los Angeles Times lays out arguments on both sides.
- Student Rights in the News: High school students in Arizona said they were reprimanded for carrying a Donald Trump banner and wearing "Make America Great Again" attire to school. Although accounts by students and their parents differ from the administration, the controversy prompts a discussion over free speech rights in school. To help, NewseumED offers a class on-site and virtually for students that uses court cases to examine how far First Amendment protections extend in public schools, and why limits may be necessary. Find out how to book "You Can't Say That in School?!" and read one teacher's praise for the class.
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