Report on "Countering Misinformation and Fake News in Many Spheres" held on 17 November 2020

Release Date: 
Tuesday, 17 November, 2020

PPSEAWA co-sponsored a virtual program entitled "Countering Misinformation and Fake News in Many Spheres: COVID-19 and Vaccines; Women and Leadership; Minority Group Portrayal; and Emotionally Charged Headlines Impact on Judgment" on 17 November  2021, with the Communications Coordination Committee for the United Nations (CCCUN), International Council of Women (ICW-CIF); UNA-USA COO; and the World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations.

This event focuses on strategies for recognizing misinformation, fake news, stereotypes, and its impact. Panelists will discuss misinformation in mainstream and social media environments, including factors related to vaccination avoidance, women and leadership roles, portrayals of minority groups, and how emotionally charged misinformation and headlines influence our judgments.

Panelists included:

  • Joseph N. Cappella, the Gerald R. Miller Professor of Communication Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania
  • Bonnie Stabile, Associate Professor & Director, Master of Public Policy Program Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University
  • Julia Baum, Department of Psychology at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Chrysalis Wright, Director, of Media & Migration Lab, Department of Psychology at the University of Central Florida

Excerpts from event:

1. Misinformation is sticky. There are several historical examples: 

  • Listerine & USFTC (1978-1980) 16 months of corrections campaign weekly effective but 42% still believed it was a cold remedy; 57% said it was part of purchase decision
  • UK 1998: linked vaccination with autism
  • The false birthright claim about former President Barack Obama was believed by a majority of Republicans in 2011 primaries and still believed by 41% of Republicans in 2016.

2. Problematic beliefs about why not to get the Covid-19 Vaccine:

  • Fear of side effects
  • Lack of efficacy
  • Unlikely to contract a severe case so not necessary
  • Approval of the vaccine was premature - too fast to know how effective

3. Major false beliefs about Covid -19 Vaccine that are circulating inlcude:

  • mRNA vaccine will alter recipients’ DNA
  • All monkey test subjects initially receiving vaccination contracted coronavirus
  • 99.6% survival from coronavirus so the fact that everyone requires vaccination seems fishy
  • Whistleblower from big pharma company says 97% of recipients will become infertile
  • Flu vaccine worsens your immune system

4. As candidates of higher office, women are portrayed as less serious contenders. Women are subject to:

  • more negative overall coverage
  • greater questioning of their validity as candidates due to constraints of parenting etc.
  • stereotypically gendered coverage of women candidates includes comments like who is watching for kids? / what is she wearing? 
  • a “double bind” exists - woman candidates has to deal with expectations of being both insufficiently, or excessively, masculine 
  • Also, an ambivalent sexism persists that is both hostile and paternalistic. Women can be negatively portrayed as inferior to dominant males, while being positively viewed as lovers and nurturing home makers.

5. How fake news and emotional headlines influence our judgments. In general, people are curious about other people. However, second-hand information about someone can’t always be trusted - it could be just a rumor or misinformation.

6. Not all information can be trusted:

  • Amount: we consume massive amount of online information which we share instantly, without evaluation sometimes
  • Emotion: news can trigger feelings like joy, excitement, threat or outrage
  • Cognitive system: how we process and learn from information
  • Social: note that our experiences and knowledge shape how we see and judge others