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News Literacy Week: Becoming a better-informed, active news consumer

The week focusing on news literacy runs January 23-27
Posted: 1:20 PM, Jan 18, 2023
Updated: 2023-01-30 10:34:32-05

PHOENIX — Life is constantly changing, especially with this new age of technology. We have access to any information we want with the swipe of a finger but with that instant access comes misinformation and false statements. Those false rumors and conspiracy theories can create serious and even deadly situations.

That is why ABC15 is taking action to confront the rise of misinformation and partnering with the News Literacy Project for News Literacy Week.

Over the past year, misinformation continued to spread on social media and make its mark. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, some people took to social media to downplay the severity of the attack, claiming the war was somehow faked or staged.

Election fraud continued to take center stage in 2022 with ripple effects from the 2020 Presidential Election. Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake continues to claim voter fraud in the midterm elections, accusing Maricopa County of "slow rolling" the vote count to skew early election results. Lake also filed a lawsuit claiming that hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots were cast in the election and blaming election officials. A judge did rule against Lake in her lawsuit.

Over the past few years, we have had so much coming at us every day and it seems like it might never stop, so how do you know what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to your news?

To make sure you are consuming the right mix of verified facts, credible sources, and relevant context, we are challenging you to test your news literacy fitness with our quiz at NewsLiteracyWeek.org. Each day this week, we're telling stories that take a look at how to be a smart and engaged news consumer.

She says most of those false narratives are often designed to trigger an emotional reaction and that can blind you to the fact that the content does not include all the facts.

NFL player's collapse sparks spread of misinformation

More than 23 million people tuned into to watch the Buffalo Bills play the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago.

Those football fans became witnesses to player Damar Hamlin's collapse on the field.

Following the incident, anti-vaccine activists took to the internet spreading unfounded theories that Hamlin's collapse was triggered by the COVID-19 vaccines.

We talked with experts about how this misinformation blew up so quickly.

"There are always going to be people that are looking to exploit a major global news event to spread a certain agenda...Even though cardiologists told us there's no reason to suggest that there was any link there, the posts created a new wave of misinformation because they affirmed the beliefs of 1000s of social media users who were already primed to suspect that the vaccine was to blame," said Ali Swenson, a news verification reporter at the Associated Press.

She specializes in misinformation reporting and tells us that many of those people were citing a supposed study that allegedly showed more than 1,500 athletes had suffered cardiac arrest since the vaccines were released but that wasn't a medical study, just a letter to the editor.

"There are a lot of people who, understandably weren't so sure about the vaccines when they first came out," said Swenson. "When people are uncertain like that, bad actors are, of course, going to jump on that and try to spread a certain agenda, even if it's not supported by evidence."

That's when misinformation becomes disinformation.

"While misinformation may or may not have been intended to deceive someone, disinformation is distinct because it is purposely false and misleading and intended to deceive," Swenson stated.

Those false facts are not only spreading online but also making their way onto network TV.

"I think this was one example where the misinformation really made its way around the globe quickly before the facts could," Swenson said.

So how can you trust what you're reading online or watching on TV?

Swenson explained, "The best advice that I can offer to the average person is that if a social media post elicits a strong reaction in you, an emotional reaction, pause and take a step back."

To see ABC15's coverage of News Literacy Week from 2022, click here.