Big Tech Layoffs Could Pave The Way For More Misinformation
and a new guide on gendered health misinformation
We hope you’re staying safe and healthy.
This week, we are following the perplexing developments related to massive layoffs by big tech companies and their impact on the information ecosystem. The changes in Twitter’s leadership and the following job cuts across the industry have raised concerns for freedom of speech, sustainability of independent newsrooms and efforts to counter mis/disinformation. This has also brought into the limelight other concerns around the big tech’s control of the information business and how their AI and ad strategies have fueled disinformation.
In this issue, we also highlight Meedan’s Digital Health Lab’s latest guide on gendered health misinformation. In a Q&A, program manager and report author Jenna Sherman shares insights from the study.
Also, take a look at the Townsquare section where we share opportunities and events.
If there are updates you would like us to share from your country or region, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A: How gendered health misinformation online can lead to real-world negative outcomes
Meedan’s Digital Health Lab just released its latest guide about gendered health misinformation. In this Q&A, we ask program manager and report author Jenna Sherman how unfounded claims online may hurt individuals typing a few keywords on the internet.
Jenna, In this recent report, you provide context, examples and how science responds to unfounded claims. How do you define gendered misinformation and what is one key challenge that you found?
Jenna: Gendered misinformation is the unintentional spread of false or substandard information about women, trans people, and nonbinary people. People who are pregnant or have a newborn may seek out health information online. But we found this content to be subpar or false.
This is concerning because online misinformation about pregnancy and infant care has the potential to lead to real-world negative health outcomes. Studies show that fear can lead to misconceptions of risk and unsafe behavioral choices, and that's what we documented with a few different misinformation trends, for instance the misinformation narratives spreading about homemade infant formula misinformation being safe and effective.
Can you tell us more about this trend?
Jenna: During the baby formula shortage in the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2022, the U.S. Federal and Drug Administration received reports of hospitalized infants suffering from hypocalcemia (low calcium) who had been fed homemade infant formula. Google searches on “how to make infant formula” also significantly spiked during the shortage. Some online claims we found also inaccurately linked formula feeding to cancer – spreading misinformation that formula is bad for infants. We know from the latest science, however, that though breastfeeding is the gold standard, formula feeding is in no way carcinogenic and is formulated and tested to be safe for infants.
How can we respond to these harmful trends?
Jenna: Platforms and fact-checkers may consider working with public health and misinformation researchers to monitor misinformation trends about the health of women, trans people, and nonbinary people to understand new and recurring trends.
The report we’ve just released provides guidance to fact-checkers, social media companies, and healthcare professionals to help them understand and prioritize work on countering gendered health misinformation to ensure more equity in how we address misinformation online. Most importantly, it offers real-world examples of false or inaccurate online narratives. Our hope is that this can both be tangibly helpful for fact-checkers and journalists, and that it helps reframe how we think about the impacts of health misinformation and how we should be addressing it.
The Check Global Report
By Meedan’s Check Global team in Beirut, Belo Horizonte, Kochi, Bhimtal, and Nairobi
‘It’s given a voice to many’: chaos at Twitter sparks real fears for free speech in south-east Asia
Social media has been crucial to pro-democracy protests across the region, from Myanmar to the Milk Tea Alliance in Thailand and Hong Kong. Twitter's future has sparked a unique conversation in parts of Asia, where criticising governments or royal figures can lead to long jail sentences and activists have few public places to speak out anonymously.
Kirsten Han, a Singapore activist who tweets out anti-death penalty content and promotes a newsletter covering taboo topics to nearly 30,000 followers, wrote in a recent thread that loosening moderation could not only further the spread of disinformation but also give “governments an excuse to justify passing more laws, implement more regulations, and generally give themselves more power to further regulate and clamp down on online expression”.
China spearheads social media campaign to attack civil society in Zimbabwe
State-controlled media outlets in Zimbabwe have used social media to attack civil society actors and other independent media organizations with support from China. The ruling political party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), has used its influence over state-controlled papers to attack civil society groups, journalists, and activists who have criticized Chinese business operations in the country, using such criticism as a rationale for engaging in political persecution.
“China’s media influence abroad can have outsized impacts in countries where freedoms are already limited. In the case of Zimbabwe, China provided political cover for [ruling party] ZANU-PF to crack down on journalists and civil society actors by spreading a narrative that claimed opposition figures were supported by foreign powers seeking to undermine the government.” — Kenton Thibaut, Resident China Fellow at the DFRLab
Justice: Rida Benotmane, an activist, receives three years in prison
A Moroccan court sentenced Rida benotmane to 3 years in prison for social media posts denouncing Moroccan authorities' repression of journalists and activists. Rida is a blogger and human rights defender. Benotmane was arrested on 9 September and charged the next day with “insulting a body regulated by law”, “insulting public officials while carrying out their duties”, and “broadcasting and distributing false allegations without consent”.
"Rida Benotmane should be freed immediately and these bogus charges against him dropped. The Moroccan authorities must ensure that people are able to exercise their freedom of expression without fear of reprisals." - Statement by Amnesty International
Nov 18, 2022
Digital security training: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and Meedan invite you to an online regional digital security training for human rights defenders (activists, journalists, grassroots organizers) from across the South Asian region on December 6, 2022, Tuesday from 12:00 - 15:30 Pakistan time / 12:30 - 16:00 Indian time. The training will be delivered by experienced digital security trainers from DRF, covering secure communication and data confidentiality issues. It will be conducted on Zoom in Urdu/Hindi. We actively encourage women and/or people from historically underrepresented communities in media and technology, to apply. Please confirm your availability for this training filling out this form before November 18, 2022.
Nov. 23, 2022
Virtual Newsroom Visits organized by International Press Institute : Learn from The Continent in South Africa how they have reimagined journalism to fit a WhatsApp-sized magazine for Africa.
Dec 1, 2022
A John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship: Apply to join a 10-month journalism fellowship at Stanford University. JSK Fellows are provided individualized coaching, a cohort of their peers and guidance that sparks professional and personal transformation.
December 7-8, 2022
JournalismAI Festival 2022: Register to join the JournalismAI Festival organized by Polis — the journalism think-tank at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) — and supported by the Google News Initiative.
What else we’re reading
This investigation presents an analysis of how Google’s ad business funds disinformation around the world (ProPublica)
A deep dive into the evolution and functioning of Meta’s Oversight board (Wired)
Sarah Scire in this article points out how Meta’s layoff is another step in decoupling from news (Nieman Lab)
Read this article to know how the fake tweets saga using the name and logo of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly cost the company and Twitter’s ad revenue (The Washington Post)
An interview of Nobel peace laureate Maria Ressa on the erosion of democracy by 2024 (The Guardian)
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