Alla Horina via shutterstsock
BARTH KECK

“LIBERATE YOUR BRAIN WITH FACTS AND SCIENCE!”

How’s that for a tweet? I kind of like it … no, wait. I actually love it!

That all-caps pronouncement is modeled, of course, after President Trump’s three tweets on Friday in apparent support of the growing protests of state-level COVID-19 restrictions:

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

“LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

This, of course, after the president on Thursday told governors on a COVID-19 conference call, “You’re going to call your own shots.”

Thanks for the support, Donald.

Trump’s tweets did nothing to thwart additional protests over the weekend in Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah.

As I write this, even dissenters in Connecticut had planned a rally this week in Hartford to challenge Gov. Ned Lamont’s stay-at-home orders.

“Two state groups, the ‘CT Liberty Rally’ and the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, have announced plans for a ‘rolling car rally’ at the state Capitol at 5 p.m. Monday to protest Gov. Lamont’s orders limiting movement during the pandemic,” reported the Hartford Courant.

What’s heartening about this particular rally is that, as planned, it would follow the social-distancing protocol outlined by medical experts. Not so with protests in other states, which saw hundreds of people congregating in state capitols, at governors’ mansions, and along city streets.

So three cheers for Connecticut! At least people here seem to agree with my mantra: “LIBERATE YOUR BRAIN WITH FACTS AND SCIENCE!”

Facts and science. Two basic elements accessible to everyone if they truly want to understand the coronavirus. Unfortunately, many seem to increasingly ignore facts and science, which indicates the spread of another frightening virus: the “infodemic.”

“The COVID-19 infodemic has highlighted that poor health literacy among a population is an underestimated public health problem globally,” according to a report in last week’s British medical journal The Lancet. “For instance, in Europe, nearly half of adults reported having problems with health literacy and not having relevant competencies to take care of their health and that of others.”

Social media deserves much of the blame for this infodemic.

The first culprit is the viral power of social-media platforms: Posts featuring the far-right QAnon’s term for armed insurrection, boogaloo, “skyrocketed in the hours after the president’s tweets, with more than 1,000 tweets featuring the term, some of which received hundreds of retweets.”

And then there’s the misinformation enabled by social media. I’ve written extensively about this dilemma, but COVID-19 puts a life-or-death premium on people’s ability to differentiate credible sources from bogus ones.

To that point, new research on 225 pieces of COVID-19 misinformation by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 38% was “completely fabricated.” Moreover, 59% involved “various forms of reconfiguration, where existing and often true information is spun, twisted, recontextualised, or reworked.”

Such manipulated content serves as a manna for anti-government zealots who see social-distancing orders as an infringement on personal rights rather than medically proven and socially responsible behavior.

Even as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube have “pledged to work together to combat misinformation,” the manipulated content grows.

“Tweets can be shared millions of times before being labeled [as manipulated media],” explain technology writers Tobias R. Keller and Rosalie Gillett. “Even if removed, they can easily be edited and then reposted to avoid algorithmic detection.”

What’s more, “labels may even be counterproductive, serving only to pique the audience’s interest. Conversely, labels may actually amplify misinformation rather than curtailing it.”

What to do?

In short, use the media-literacy guidelines I’ve outlined previously to separate fact from fiction. Be a responsible and critical consumer of news by “balancing your media diet” and “reading, viewing, listening to, and interacting with media actively and skeptically.”

In the case of COVID-19, look for information that cites scientifically credible sources. The reputable science website RealClear Science, for example, suggests STAT, Live Science, NewScientist, Kaiser Health News, Gizmodo, and The Associated Press for daily updates. For “more intermittent, yet still terrific, content,” RCS adds Nature News and Science-Based Medicine to the list.

The bottom line is to recognize your own confirmation biases, get out of your personal filter bubbles, and actively seek solid information.

In other words, “LIBERATE YOUR BRAIN WITH FACTS AND SCIENCE!”

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.