Easy access to information and the internet has created a significant impact in society. From increasing overall cultural and news literacy to empowering people to stay connected, the rapid information age has certainly transformed how society communicates. However, with it, has come certain challenges—and the spread of misinformation is central among these challenges.
The fear of misinformation was expressly prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there was a global state of massive confusion and lack of understanding as to what the virus was, who could be affected, how to prevent infection, death, etc. Many non-medical professionals shared their opinions about the virus which challenged the opinions of trained medical professionals, causing not only chaos, but a sense of distrust in the general community.
This is an ephemeral challenge in social media and public information platforms; companies and moderators struggle with the ever-onerous balance between over-moderation and curtailing of free speech versus promoting a platform that propagates misinformation.
Late last week, YouTube, one of the world’s largest online video sharing and media platforms, released a new initiative on this front. Dr. Garth Graham, Global Head of YouTube Health, wrote in a blog-post titled “New ways for licensed healthcare professionals to reach people on YouTube” and explained: “When it comes to our health, people trust healthcare professionals to give us the best advice. But the opportunity that healthcare professionals have to inform and educate their patients largely stops at the clinic door. The reality is that the majority of healthcare decisions are made outside the doctor’s office, in the everyday lives of our patients […] Today, we’re announcing that for the first time, certain categories of healthcare professionals and health information providers can apply to make their channels eligible for our health product features that were launched in the US last year. This includes health source information panels that help viewers identify videos from authoritative sources and health content shelves that highlight videos from these sources when you search for health topics, so people can more easily navigate and evaluate health information online.”
Essentially, YouTube is attempting to empower higher quality health information through its platforms, with the hope that this helps the wider YouTube community find more legitimate content and connections they can trust.
YouTube is certainly not the only platform going through significant growing pains on this front. Facebook (now known as “Meta”) has received significant scrutiny for many years on how content is moderated on its platforms, from the actual Facebook application to Instagram. The company’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly come under scrutiny on this subject, especially given that the platforms reach nearly 2 billion people monthly.
Most recently, the dramatic purchase of Twitter Inc., by Tesla founder Elon Musk has drawn significant media attention. One of Musk’s self-proclaimed interests in purchasing the company was allegedly based on his dissatisfaction with how Twitter was moderating content and controlling the flow of information. In a post last week, Musk shared an open note addressed to “Twitter Advertisers”: “The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”
Musk has congruently announced the formation of a “content moderation council” that will review content and account reinstatement decisions, to ensure better alignment with Twitter’s mission and guidelines.
Indeed, this is also important with regards to health misinformation, as Twitter is a conduit for massive amounts of healthcare data and news. During the height of the pandemic, physicians and providers from all backgrounds used Twitter (the most common hashtags included #MedTwitter, #MedEd—“medical education,” or #FOAMed—“Free Open Access Medical Education”) to display the scenes on the frontlines, often sharing their own experiences and advice on how to deal with the virus and other illnesses. Of course, this soon led to the ephemeral problem: who should be trusted? Notably, Twitter boasts nearly 450 million monthly active users.
None of this content management work will be easy. The reason this problem even exists is due to a constant challenge between the right to freedom of speech, propagating truthful information, and public safety concerns. Finding the right balance between these factors is proving to be notoriously challenging for these companies. Indeed, the best thing users can do for themselves is to ultimately consult their own trusted licensed and trained medical professionals for any and all problems. Nonetheless, the question of how best to transmit information is one the most important thought-problems leaders should be contemplating, as the future of our world truly depends on it.
Media Advisory: Minister Pam Parsons to Speak at Vigil to Coincide with National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women – News Releases – Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Honourable Pam Parsons, Minister Responsible for Women and Gender Equality, will share remarks at a vigil to coincide with the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women tomorrow (December 6).
The event will commemorate the 14 women who were killed due to gender-based violence at L’École Polytechnique in Montréal, Quebec, on December 6, 1989.
The event starts at 6:00 p.m. in the main lecture theatre (EN-2006) of the Memorial University Engineering Building, 240 Prince Phillip Drive, St. John’s.
4 Tools For Developing Critical Media Literacy Skills From NAMLE – Forbes
With Twitter announcing a few days ago that, under Elon Musk’s leadership, it will stop policing Covid misinformation, the wide-ranging and rampant spread of falsehoods about elections and vaccines across all social media channels, and other known attempts at mass deception, it has become more important than ever that people learn to question and investigate the sources of any information they find online. Media literacy has emerged as a critical issue in the 21st century.
The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) is devoted to convening experts, promoting media education, and teaching people – especially children – to be savvy consumers of all forms of media. Executive Director Michelle Ciulla Lipkin speaks frequently to the press about how media literacy is an essential life skill in today’s world, and how media literacy education can combat misinformation, give people confidence in their decisions, and protect democracy.
By uniting a community of educators, practitioners, and researchers, NAMLE develops resources to develop the vital skills of media literacy. With 82 organizational partners, over 7,000 individual members, and an educator reach of 300,000, NAMLE empowers leaders and educators with the knowledge necessary to help students navigate the most complex media ecosystem that has ever existed.
During the run-up to the U.S. midterm elections on November 8, 2022, for example, NAMLE organized Media Literacy Weeks, a series of events and programs that took place across the country. NAMLE partnered with organizations such as PBS, The National Media Literacy Alliance, Lego, Sesame Workshop, and Roblox to offer sessions on topics including how to teach media literacy in classrooms for kids ages elementary through high school and the impact of media on civic engagement. The organization has also enjoyed a long-standing partnership with Reuters.
“Being media literate means asking questions, being curious and skeptical about all media messages all the time,” says Lipkin. To get started on your media literacy journey, she suggests asking these questions:
● Who made this?
● Why was it made?
● How does this make me feel?
● How might different people understand this issue differently?
● What is left out that might be important to know?
NAMLE’s core principles teach people that:
1. Media messages are produced for particular purposes – whether it be to entertain, sell something, inspire us, make us laugh, or even manipulate us to act and feel a certain way. Understanding the intent behind a media message is key to being media literate.
2. All media messages contain embedded values and points of view. No media message is neutral. Everything has an agenda and is created by humans who have different perspectives. Think about what the values and points of view are of the creator of the content when analyzing media.
3. People use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages. Each individual perceives the world and the media they both consume and create differently. Recognizing those differences allows for a more nuanced understanding of each other.
4. Media and media messages can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and the democratic process. Media are powerful and they impact almost every aspect of our lives.
Lipkin developed a passion for media literacy for very personal reasons. On December 21, 1988, when she was 17 years old, her father was coming home from a business trip in London when the plane he was on, Pan Am flight 103, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Experts later determined that a bomb had been placed on board by terrorists.
This was before cell phones and the internet, so Lipkin and her family actually learned of the terrible tragedy through a breaking news story. They had to watch the television news to get all their information about the crash, its cause, the other families impacted, and even – that first night – to learn that there were no survivors.
“It was a life-defining moment,” says Lipkin, “an incident that would forever change the person I was. It changed the way I thought about the world, the way I saw myself, the way I understood everything. It also shaped my relationship with the media – in profound and powerful ways.”
Three and a half years later, Lipkin and her family set out to investigate the Lockerbie disaster for themselves. That decision, she said, changed everything. “I had believed that what I was seeing on the news was my father’s story. I hadn’t even realized that there were questions I should have been asking. Answers I should have been demanding.” In the 30 years since, she has made endless media appearances regarding her father’s death.
Furthermore, what she discovered led Lipkin directly into a lifelong career of media production and media literacy education. “I have found the perfect cause for me to keep fighting for,” Lipkin says. “I feel very proud of the work that I do and the growth of NAMLE and the media literacy movement. It is valuable work that makes a real difference in people’s lives.”
That said, Lipkin faces numerous challenges in running a non-profit, including fundraising and capacity issues around whether they can bring on the staff they need. In addition, Lipkin says, the media literacy community is large and diverse, meaning that people have many different ways to approach it. Finally, she feels that “the movement to save our country from falling into a disinformation abyss is a 24/7 job. It’s on my mind all the time.”
With the Covid pandemic, the rapid spread of misinformation became about more than just democracy; it became a life-or-death situation. And so, Lipkin feels more motivated than ever to continue her work with NAMLE. “Our services have never been in more demand. Our work has never been more important.”
Lipkin has an original take on connecting with your life purpose. “I always prefer to be the least intelligent person in the room,” she says. “I love learning from others. I am curious about other people’s expertise and perspective. My advice: surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and have different skills than you. This can inspire you to take yourself to the next level.”
What Western media got wrong by claiming Iran abolished its morality police
Over the weekend, news spread in numerous reputable media outlets that the Islamic Republic of Iran had dismantled its controversial morality police.
Wikipedia even changed its entry, with the edited text suggesting the force had officially been disbanded.
But these reports all rested on a vague statement made by one Iranian official, one who in the same breath said his department is not responsible for the morality police.
Not only is it unconfirmed that the morality police have been disbanded, but statements by officials since have made it clear that sharia law — and its restrictions on women’s dress — will continue to be enforced.
The morality police came under the scrutiny of Western media as of Sept. 16, the day 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died after being detained by officers for not wearing her hijab properly.
The circumstances of Amini’s death, and the force’s involvement, have since triggered protests against the police and the Iranian regime that have swept across the country and the world.
What did media outlets claim?
The New York Times for instance, reported it as being an “apparent victory for feminists.”
Who did the claim come from?
The original claim came from a vague comment made by one regime official — someone who is not in charge of Iran’s morality police.
At a press conference, Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was asked why the morality police, which in Persian is called Gasht-e-ershad, has not been seen on the streets in recent days.
Montazeri said the following: “The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary system. The same source that created it in the past — from that same source it has been shut down. Of course, the judiciary system will continue its surveillance of social behaviours across society.”
While reports suggest the morality police is not seen prominently on the streets, the regime has continued its violent crackdown on Iranian protesters. It has employed multiple military forces, including members of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its plainclothes agents, to brutally crack down on protesters. According to one human rights group, 500 Iranians have been killed, including at least 60 children — and more than 18,000 people have been detained.
What does that tell us?
The top prosecutor’s comments include a few important points the media should have taken into consideration.
Firstly, the attorney general admitted the morality police does not fall under the purview of the country’s judiciary. And he also did not specify who exactly allegedly shut down the morality police — or when and how it was shut down. Instead, his comments were “vague and non-transparent,” as BBC Persian reported early on.
Notably, Montazeri said the enforcement of the country’s Islamic sharia laws would continue by means of “social surveillance” — demonstrating that whether the morality police exists or not, Iranian women will still be subjected to the same punitive legal system dictating the Islamic dress code.
Has the regime made false claims about the morality police before?
Yes. Late in 2017, IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi, who also heads the Greater Tehran police, claimed that Iranian women would no longer be jailed for not wearing the hijab. Rahimi said women would instead receive lessons to “reform their behaviour.”
But in 2018, police in Tehran arrested 29 women for taking part in the “White Wednesdays” campaign, where women across Iran protested the mandatory hijab by climbing onto telecom boxes, taking off their headscarves and waving them on a stick.
A number of these women and their mothers are still imprisoned.
And while the morality police is the arms-length body that physically enforces the Islamic dress code, the country’s strict mandatory hijab law — which came into effect in 1979 — remains in place.
What has the Islamic Republic said since the press conference?
Iranian state media forcefully pushed back on the top prosecutor’s comments, insisting it is the Ministry of Interior that oversees the morality police — not the judiciary.
Montazeri was also quoted in Iranian state media rebuking reporting by the international media, saying that “no official authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police.”
Why did media outlets mischaracterize this vague claim?
Iranians on social media quickly expressed their dismay at the way international media reported the news, many suggesting it stems from an inherent misunderstanding of what the protests in Iran stand for.
“I think it simply underscores that the global community wants a neat resolution to this story and is not realizing that the Iranian people want a full overhaul of the system — not just the morality police,” Gissou Nia, an Iranian-American human rights lawyer at the Atlantic Council told CBC News.
And Western institutions, including the media, have had a poor understanding of the Iranian regime for a long time, said Iranian-Canadian human rights activist and lawyer Kaveh Shahrooz.
“Instead of listening to democracy and human rights activists, these institutions mistakenly listened to analysts who told them that Iran’s regime is basically normal and can be trusted,” Shahrooz said.
“Iran’s regime is not normal; its official statements are often lies designed to mislead the world. Our media should not take them at their word and must exercise extra caution when reporting on Iran.”
Why some Iranians say this is a diversion
Iran has seen an unprecedented wave of anti-regime protests for almost three months, beginning after Amini’s death in custody.
This week, protesters organized strikes across different cities in the country.
Many activists argued on social media that Montazeri’s comments were a form of misinformation and, in fact, a tactic employed by the Iranian regime to stop the ongoing protests in Iran.
“International media outlets must learn that when dictatorships like the Islamic Republic are in trouble, they spread propaganda, as the Iranian regime did in 2017 and as they did today,” prominent Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad said on Twitter. “This is their modus operandi.”
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