[Published] Why coronavirus conspiracies are thriving

The longer we stay at home and social distance during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the more misinformation and conspiracy seem to thrive. Sure, the supply-side is spraying nonsense in every direction for profit, power, anarchy, or all the above. But the flood of falsehoods exists in part because demand is through the roof. The same measures keeping us safe from coronavirus are making us susceptible to misinformation about it.

It was the Plandemic video that really got my attention. I wasn’t just seeing it shared by my more conspiratorial friends, but by seemingly everyone on my Facebook news feed. So I started digging into what we know of selective exposure and cognitive outcome involvement, paired with early research on coronavirus messaging, to explain why conditions are ripe for conspiracies to travel beyond their usual circles, and what can be done at the state and individual level to combat it.

Read the full story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Clickworthy] The media scramble to report on Obamacare decision

“We’re not racing you”; in a decision this long and complicated, “no one will remember if you move this story first or we do,” but the “only thing anyone will ever remember is if we f*** it up.”

A lot happened in 15 minutes at the Supreme Court June 28. The Court issued its Opinion on the controversial Affordable Care Act, and reporters quickly attempted to boil it down to a simple yea or nay. Constitutional or not. Problem was, the opinion was lengthy, and the first two pages didn’t quite synch up with the remainder. I’ve already documented the flubs by CNN and Fox News, blowing the call in a (misguided, I would argue) attempt to be first.

Over the holiday, Tom Goldstein, the publisher of the now-on-the-radar SCOTUSblog, provided a behind the scenes glimpse at the chaos of those 15 minutes. In his account, we discover the struggle just to get access to the Opinion of the Court, how interpretive errors were made, and how even the White House couldn’t get a clear answer as to what had just happened.

The story is fascinating, and Goldstein’s critique of gathering and dissemination by various news outlets is balanced and wise – pretty good stuff from someone who reminds us at beginning and end that he is not a journalist. The only way we know it’s true? No true eyeball-seeking journalist would ever publish such a quality piece at 10 p.m. on a Saturday of a holiday weekend. Hat-tip to Jay Rosen at NYU for keeping the scanners on while we were barbequing.

CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?

My television tuned to the network morning programs; my browser displayed a handful of news sites and Twitter. With breakfast in hand, I was in full breaking news mode Thursday morning, awaiting word of the Supreme Court’s opinion on the Affordable Care Act. More simply, healthcare reform; more partisan, Obamacare.

A few minutes after 9 a.m. central time, every major news network was on the air, trying to be the first to summarize the 193-page opinion. CNN, the former cable news king now in dire need of ratings, was the first major source to make a declaration. Individual mandate: Unconstitutional. Healthcare law: Thrown out. On-air, online, on social media, through email blast, CNN was ready to celebrate an all-out, multi-channel, breaking news of the year scoop!

Except they were wrong. A misreading of the opinion, they claimed.

Individual mandate: Constitutional. Healthcare law: Upheld.

Courtesy Gary He (http://twitter.com/garyhe)

CNN wasn’t alone (though they were certainly most prominent). Fox News displayed the incorrect opinion on a banner during their live television coverage. A number of Republican political figures jumped the gun in celebration. Others goofed. Read all about it.

It used to be that getting a scoop mattered. Beating a competitor by an entire day in a printed newspaper really meant something. But today, when information is disseminated over various channels within minutes (or seconds) of each other, does being first really mean that much? Is it worth being wrong? Ask CNN. Sure, the tagline could have read: “We get you the news 11 seconds before the other guys.” Enviable, to be sure. Instead, they made “The most trusted name in news” read like a relic from a time when their newsroom had some sense.

Continue reading “CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?”

KONY 2012: Awareness and accuracy; Idealism and cynicism

Joseph Kony is an evil man. But are the people who likely made you aware of him in the first place even worse? Over the course of just a few days, the world responded to the message of Invisible Children’s short film, Kony 2012, then shot the very messenger that brought them the news. And by the end of it all, at least one man was naked on a street corner.

It was a unique event.

The video itself was the eleventh by Invisible Children, and even in its short lifespan, the most effective. As of the writing of this post – three weeks after the video’s release – Kony 2012 had been viewed over 100 million times on YouTube and Vimeo. MSNBC wrote in greater detail about how the video went viral, while the Chronicle of Philanthropy provided a more philosophical, yet briefer account.

So, Kony 2012 was achieving its goal – to make Joseph Kony famous. There is no denying that the world is now more aware of the man than before the campaign. However, in the process of making Kony famous, Invisible Children too became noteworthy, and when one attracts a certain amount of attention, it is only a matter of time before a critical lens is applied.

Continue reading “KONY 2012: Awareness and accuracy; Idealism and cynicism”

Wallace/Stewart interview fallout good for media discourse

Many months ago, in November 2010, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace visited the set of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to talk with Stewart, inevitably, about the perception of bias in Fox News programming. Wallace continually asked Stewart to come on his Fox program.

Last Sunday, Stewart finally obliged. Again the talks took a turn toward bias in the media, and at Fox in particular – this time, on Wallace’s home turf.

(Click on the annotation for part 2)

Continue reading “Wallace/Stewart interview fallout good for media discourse”