In a still shot of a L.A. Times video documenting peaceful demonstrations in downtown L.A. on May 31, L.A. Times columnist LZ Granderson interviews protesters. (Mark Potts, Maggie Beidelman and LZ Granderson / Los Angeles Times)

Countering misinformation in times of civil unrest

The news you consume shapes how you see the world. 

The past few weeks have been difficult for the Southern California community and the nation at large, particularly for communities of color. Nationwide protests express outrage over the deaths of Black people in police custody including George Floyd. Civil unrest and the continued coronavirus pandemic can be seen all over the news and outside our windows.

The way that these events are presented to you affects how you feel and respond. As young people, you are likely feeling a range of emotions as you try to process what you are seeing, hearing or may be experiencing in your own families. The news these past few weeks has often been contradictory, with accounts of protestors differing from government officials, as well as ever-changing curfews and public safety directives that add to the confusion. High School Insider and the Education team at PBS SoCal | KCET gathered guidelines and resources to help you process the news in a thoughtful and inclusive way. 

There is not a single, ultimate true telling of #Uprising2020 that encapsulates all perspectives and contexts. Because the world is messy and complicated, we all have to be able to hold multiple truths at once. These tips are to help you navigate a sea of information to find multiple, credible sources that can help you come to a fuller understanding of the news of the day.

Diversify your media sources: 

  • Follow all types of media. Follow coverage of breaking news events on social media as well as reading, watching and listening to different forms of media. The information you need to know will not appear in your feed on its own. You need to actively seek out trusted sources by subscribing to news and by prioritizing time to read, watch and listen. 
    • Include a mix of media types like print, broadcast and audio journalism to ensure you will see both breaking news and longer form analysis and reflection. 
    • Aggregators like Flipboard and AppleNews can help you see a wide range of news sources. 
  • Follow journalists of color and their publications. Make sure that the authors of the news you consume are diverse and represent the communities they cover. When a newsroom fully reflects the diversity of their community, they are better able to share nuanced stories that inform and challenge your assumptions and biases. 
  • Follow local and national media. As stories become nationalized, they tend to become less nuanced.
    • When you follow a mix of national news outlets as well as local ones, that helps you get the detailed neighborhood coverage that is most relevant to your day-to-day life.
    • Research what local outlets are in your city or town, like your local public media station (PBS or NPR) or community newspaper.
    • Look beyond traditional outlets too: research local news start-ups or podcasts that cover your community specifically. There is so much content out there to explore! 
  • Balance firsthand accounts and verified national media to provide context.
    • In rapidly evolving news events like a protest or other instances of civil unrest, following social media accounts that are on the ground can be a valuable source of real-time information, but, it may be difficult to see the whole picture right away.
    • Combine following social media accounts of community organizations doing work on the ground with news media that includes the historical context behind the events that can help you gain a fuller perspective.

Verify the information you see, hear and receive:

  • Be skeptical of all news. News comes from your social media feed, tv, but also in messages from friends and family. 
  • Consult fact-checking websites. In some cases of viral misinformation, fact-checking websites may have already debunked false claims. Learn some fact-checking techniques in this video from Take On Fake, a digital series focused on combating misinformation.

    pasted image 0 Countering misinformation in times of civil unrest
    This screenshot of the Los Angeles Times opinion section demonstrates how news agencies clearly identify opinion stories to distinguish them from their unbiased news coverage. (Molly Heber / Los Angeles Times)
  • Corroborate stories with other outlets. Cross-checking information can be especially useful in rapidly evolving, spread out news events. Remember that official orders about curfews and safety guidelines can be found on city and county websites. 
  • News versus Opinion. Remember that trusted news orgs will clearly state an article is an opinion piece. When reading or hearing a news piece, dissect it. Is the author remaining impartial? Or, trying to argue that a particular opinion is right? Reading opinion pieces can be useful — they can add context to an issue and introduce you to perspectives and viewpoints outside your own. But, make sure to analyze claims the author makes in relation to what you are seeing in news reports.
  • Do your own verification by thinking “SHEEP.” This tool was developed by First Draft to help news consumers quickly evaluate information that comes across social media platforms.
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First Draft, a nonprofit committed to protecting the world’s information ecosystem, encourages news consumers to think “SHEEP” before they share misinformation online. (Image courtesy of First Draft)

Think before you share:

  • Be especially careful when viewing or sharing images depicting violence. Yes, those images and videos can lead to awareness and recognition of the systematic violence communities of color face in this country. But, sharing images and videos of violence against black communities often dehumanizes the very stories you are trying to elevate, and can have a negative impact on the mental health of people of color who relive trauma when viewing those images. Before sharing, ask yourself  “does sharing this video add information or context to the story?”
    • Listen to this Code Switch episode and read this essay by Jamil Smith to add context to the conversation around the value of sharing images and videos depicting black trauma and death.    
    • Watch this Washington Post TikTok video where reporter Eugene Scott talks about covering this moment as a black reporter.   
  • Talk to friends and family about misinformation they share. Be empathetic — it is difficult to get the facts right all the time — but ask for it to be corrected.
  • Report misinformation on the platforms where they appear. Read up on how to report posts on different social media sites here.

Additional Resources for Student Journalists: