GUEST EDITORIAL: Combat the infodemic during this pandemic
This editorial was originally published in the Park Rapids Enterprise newspaper, a sister paper to the Wadena Pioneer Journal; both papers are owned by Forum Communications Company. It was written by the Park Rapids Enterprise Editorial Board.
Perhaps social media is to blame for the notion that all opinions are of equal value, that opinions aren’t subject to scrutiny and that listening to information from people with expertise, knowledge and training makes you “sheep,” “propagandists” or “fearmongers.”
When you have legal troubles, you talk to a reputable lawyer.
When your car needs repair, you go to a sound mechanic.
When you need heart surgery, you want an expert surgeon.
Why? Because their hands-on skills, insight and education hold value.
As journalists, it’s our duty to verify statements before we publish them, particularly if they're false or misleading statements that could cause harm. Especially during a pandemic, where our community is rife with false information that is dangerous. It affects our readers' health.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics tells us “to seek the truth and report it. Take responsibility for the accuracy of your work. Verify it before releasing it.”
That is the core of news reporting.
When covering the news, journalists verify, double- and even triple-check sources.
Newspapers aren’t obligated to publish someone’s opinion if it is false or misleading or widely debunked. While freedom of speech is a fundamental right, it is not absolute and it is subject to restrictions. As courts have ruled, you don't have the freedom to yell "fire!" in a crowded movie theater.
When someone claims medical knowledge, journalists don't simply repeat their statements. We turn to local, regional, state or federal health care professionals for the latest, scientifically proven information. There are numerous credible health sources geared toward journalists: Poynter’s International Fact Checking Network, FirstDraftNews.org, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, the Association of Health Care Journalists and many more.
Citizens should apply the same rigorous fact-checking to what they see on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and elsewhere. Talk to your local health care provider. Visit the John Hopkins University of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, local public health agencies and the Minnesota Department of Health for their continuous updates.
The spread of misinformation is a great threat to our democracy.
Should we all have a healthy dose of skepticism? Yes.
That’s why we should be cautious about making health decisions based on celebrities’ comments, like Aaron Rodgers or Nicki Minaj. That’s why we should disregard a business that is spreading disinformation in order to sell their own “alternative products.” That’s why we should question politicians who share outlandish, unproven conspiracy theories at town hall meetings.
Everyone should learn how to spot misinformation and its evil twin sister, disinformation.
It’s just good, plain common sense – something Minnesotans used to understand and appreciate.