Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
All right. And welcome back to today’s episode of KZUM News.
We are kicking off the new year with our media literacy series. If you’ve been paying any attention for the last… oh three or four months, then you know I have been petitioning you to please take our perceptions of the news survey. And we’ve gathered a bunch of data about how you guys perceive local newsrooms. And national newsrooms. But, mostly, local newsrooms. We’ve got plenty of data that we’ve been talking [about] already with you.
Last week we talked about the role of journalism in our communities, as well as general ethical guidelines that we have to follow in our newsrooms. And this week we are discussing disinformation, misinformation, and malformation. We have two guests here in the studio and I’m gonna go ahead and let them introduce themselves. So we’re gonna start out here on the left.
Hello, how are you?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Hello. I am fine.
For all those who don’t know, I am Gatini Tinsley and I work in television news.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you are the newest reporter at Channel 8 [News], correct?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: That is correct. I am one of their reporters weekday side. And, on the weekends, I am the anchor.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, congratulations. We’re glad to have you here in Lincoln.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Thank you.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then here on the right-hand side. Hello, Amanda. How are you?
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: I’m fine, thanks. Thanks so much for having us here. This is such an important topic and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk more about misinformation and disinformation and what we can do to fight it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, absolutely. And thank you for joining us, especially all the way from Crete. Where… Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what it is you’re doing down there on the Doane campus in Crete?
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Sure.
I am a professor of strategic communication and I do a lot of research in the area of how people make messages and process messages when they’re trying to get other people to do things that they want them to do. So, I study persuasion in the context of relationships. And a little bit of misinformation in there, also.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Which is why you’re here with us this evening. Or afternoon, technically.
So we are starting off… Obviously, we wanna establish and give our listeners a baseline idea of what misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation is.
So, Amanda, I kind of feel like you’re the best person to start us off here.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: So, for me, I really only distinguish between misinformation and disinformation. So I’ll leave the malinformation to you, okay Amantha?
Amantha Dickman, News Director: No problem.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: So when I think about misinformation, it is just any information that is incorrect, right?
If I say, “Oh, you know, the earth is 68 million miles in circumference,” I don’t know what the circumference of the earth is off the top of my head. So anyone repeating that just now would also be committing misinformation.
However, disinformation is misinformation with an agenda. Disinformation is misinformation where someone has an interest or gains something from you believing the wrong information, and, especially, if you repeat that wrong information to others.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then I just wanna establish for listeners; malinformation is an instance where the information presented is technically true, however, its framing is meant to be deceiving to whoever is engaging with that content.
So, now that we’ve kind of laid a groundwork for listeners, one of the really interesting questions that we came across with our survey is we asked people, “Do you think that you are good at recognizing misinformation?” And, according to our survey, 74.1% said that they were absolutely sure that they were good at identifying misinformation. 22.2% were not really sure. And 3.7% were like, “No, not at all. Not good at it.”
So, I mean, I guess the question is… are people actually that good at identifying misinformation?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I’m gonna say no. I don’t believe they are. Because a lot of misinformation… it’s delivered in a way where the person sounds confident. And part of that confidence is them not knowing that it’s misinformation. So I don’t think people are that great at differentiating it.
And I also, when you think about misinformation, it’s one of these things that kind of gets repeated and repeated and repeated. So you see something on Facebook and then it moves to Instagram, and then it moves to Twitter. And you’ve seen it so many times that, in your brain, you’re thinking it’s true.
The next thing you know, your friends are repeating it. Your grandma’s repeating it. And that’s kind of one of the things; that you’ve heard it so many times, even though it’s wrong, you don’t recognize it’s wrong. Because the way our brain works and the way we work as humans is that when we hear something over and over and over and you’re in this repetitive cycle and this echo chamber, you believe it’s real.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I think a really great example of this is I have an aunt who made a post a couple [of] years ago and she was like, “When you’re cutting onions, you put water under your eyes because it stops from crying when you’re cutting onions.”
And, at the time, I was like, I can’t… I don’t know that’s not true off the top of my head. But that sounds not true. And, so, I had to Google it. And spoil their alert; it is not true. It does not work.
But anyway, Amanda, I think you had something to say there.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Well, I take very well that this is KZUM listeners. And, so, in my experience, they probably are more engaged in the community and in news than their average bear. So, they’re probably better able to, like you with your aunt’s post, “Here’s something, have a question, and then go follow it up.”
But I also know that the National Communication Association did a study in 2018, and 91% of respondents said that they had an above-average sense of humor. And it goes back to exactly what Gatini was saying; part of the trouble with misinformation and disinformation is that people want to believe it. That’s part of the problem.
And, so, when you hear something from a bunch of different sources, even if it’s the same piece of information and you want to believe that, that creates a really powerful combination of sort of like a cascade of cognitive effects that make you, you know, you don’t really wanna check it too much to see if it’s wrong.
You don’t want to. You don’t wanna think less of your aunt. You don’t want to think that you could be someone who’s duped.
So part of the… what worries me about going forward is how much more sophisticated disinformation is becoming. Because you have these disinformation agents now who operate in various traditional and social media platforms. And they have learned from how all of the prior disinformation agents have gone wrong and were caught out. And they are not making those same mistakes.
So, now and going forward, we need to be even more vigilant.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: And I think that when I said that I don’t think people really know a lot that they’re spreading misinformation, I was thinking more on a global scale, not necessarily pertaining to readers and viewers that you have from your social media accounts and your radio station.
I think we saw a lot of misinformation at the height of the pandemic. That is literally why so many social media, especially like Instagram and Twitter, then started to place, “Hey, this message has not been approved by the CDC.” Because people were spreading misinformation about Covid-19, Covid-19 vaccines, Covid-19 statistics. And, so, I think that’s one of the examples that we can look at that’s kind of prominent, that we’ve seen over the last few years is misinformation was spreading rapidly about Covid-19.
And, although we do have free speech, they did deem it necessary to put that little tagline in.
When anyone talked about Covid-19, they would say, “Hey, this information is not reflective of the CDC.” I started seeing that on my feed a lot.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: And last week we hear echoes of misinformation with that football player, Damar Hamlin, who had a legitimate medical emergency that was just a shock accident of timing; interrupted a cardiac rhythm. And, immediately, you had people who were committed to spreading anti-vaccine misinformation and disinformation jump on that and say, “Well, you didn’t see people collapsing like that before the Covid-19 vaccine.” To which I say, “Well, yes. Yes, we did.”
But this is how powerful and how subtle this disinformation is. Because what it does for people is it gives them an explanatory framework to understand the world around them. And one of the reasons it is so hard to correct or debunk misinformation – disinformation – even if you want to, is because you have to interrupt a whole narrative that someone has built around it that serves a purpose for them by simplifying the world and casting themselves as the good person in the story.
And that is sometimes why it’s not enough just to say, “Okay, well that’s wrong.” Because people become invested in it, because it becomes a part of their worldview, and becomes a part of their identity.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah.
And I know we were emailing about K.H. Ecker and a study that he did. He’s done quite a few different research studies about this subject and we’ll talk a little bit more about the disrupting patterns. But I just think these are some great examples of misinformation that we see commonly and quite pervasively in our society.
So, we basically agree across the board that people are generally speaking – and not necessarily you who are listening, we’re not talking about you personally – but that most people are not very good at identifying misinformation.
So, I guess the next question is how do we teach people to identify misinformation? What are these things?
And, of course, we’re gonna have two very different perspectives here since, Amanda, you’re coming from the education side and, Gatini, you’re dealing with sorting between information and trying to figure out what is ‘true.’ And I use that term loosely here, right? But true in the context of what can you follow up on in the field. So, we’ve got two very different perspectives here. But I think they’re both going to be really interesting and necessary to this conversation.
So, whoever wants to start.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I’m also coming from this perspective of having interviewed thousands of people over a more than 12-year career. The perspective of the people right on the grounds that I interview with and deal with and interact with daily.
And I think one of the things that I’ve learned and what I also just love about journalism, in general, is the ability to meet different people. And you’re meeting people from all walks of life; you’re not just meeting people. You meet everyone from elite politicians – the other day I interviewed senators over at our legislatures back in session starting last week – all the way down to homeless people, people in need, people at the college level, people who are in the workforce, and who are blue-collar workers. You’re dealing with such a huge dynamic of people and what it really has taught me in terms of misinformation and a way to kind of prevent it; people don’t know what they don’t know.
And I think the first line of defense is for people to realize, I don’t know everything. A lot of people with misinformation are coming from the perspective, “I know, I know. I know.” [Be]cause they think they know. So if you can actually just admit to yourself, “I don’t know everything. Maybe I should check into this a little more.” That would be one line of defense.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s a teachable skill.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Well, to follow along from that, something that is a little bit more teachable is helping people become more curious about the world around them. And I find that helping people sort of discover curiosity, as you were saying Gatini, right?
You get to interview so many different people and learn about so many different areas of the world that you would never have had access to, were you not a reporter, right?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Right.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: And, so, it really is, at least when I teach and talk with people in conversations, it really is more of a matter of helping them learn what questions to ask so that they do realize, “Oh, I have a little piece of this. What more is there?” Right?
And, so, typically I’ll think about, “Okay, how many sources have you read about this? Right? How much effort have you put into doing this work, right?” Because one thing we know about fact-checking, one thing we know about debunking information is it takes time and it takes effort.
And as much as we three, for professional and personal reasons, really, really care about getting things as correct as possible… we also know that not everyone has the time to go Google. Not everyone has the time to follow up and read what a cardiologist is writing on Twitter about how just being hit in the chest at the wrong time can interrupt that electric signal, right?
It takes time. And helping people understand how that effort to learn or sort of follow up on that curiosity not only fits into their lives, but also helps the rest of their life.
I found [it] is really important to help them get into the, “Oh, okay, well I do have five minutes here, right?” Like if I’m five minutes early to a doctor’s appointment, I can follow up on how many votes did the house actually take last week before they finally had a speaker of the house? What does that mean? Why do I care? And to check more than one source, right?
People, sometimes… there’s something called confirmation bias that happens where people really don’t wanna find out if they’re wrong. So. And it’s a self-protective mechanism. So, they will search sources that they think will agree with them. Or they won’t search sources that they think might disagree with them. They also don’t think too hard or look for holes in potential information that agrees with them.
So also, in addition to curiosity, maybe a skepticism about what is it you’re encountering; where is it coming from, who benefits – especially financially – if you believe this, and then to check some sources you typically check, and then to try to find – through expanding your network – having that curiosity, finding some sources you don’t normally check.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yeah. And when you talk about sources, one of the things that just kind of flashes off in my mind is in… 2023 is not the year 1995, 2000, or 2005. And what we have is a lot of people thinking that legitimate sources are YouTube, Twitter, Instagram. These are the sources.
Because you also, this is one of my chief problems with the blogosphere, is anyone can have a blog. No education needed. Anyone can jump on YouTube and claim to be this chief authority; no background, no education. It’s just me getting on there saying, “I’m the authority in this. Listen to me.” And people are listening. And they’re spreading the information because they believe these people are credible, “Well, it’s coming from YouTube, it’s coming from Instagram. This person has a blog!”
But you have to actually look at the person who has the blog and go into their history. What school did you graduate from? What internships have you done? Where do you collect your information from? What professional memberships and organizations are you a part of that you follow the ethical standards and guidelines of that association?
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Agreed.
I have… I’ve had a really interesting conversation actually with a friend of mine who works at Nebraska Appleseed on their social media about the way that information has been condensed into a more consumable format on social media and how, unfortunately, that format is not always the most nuanced. So, I think that’s a really interesting and great point, Gatini.
Especially because, my personal go-to rule that I wanna share with listeners is, if the information makes me too happy or too angry… it’s probably not true. If it gets a huge emotional reaction out of me, then it probably just needs to be double-checked and I need to go check out credible sources, as Gatini mentioned, and follow up and fact-check, as Amanda mentioned. So, that’s one thing I want everyone to keep in mind when they are looking and taking their time to do their due diligence with facts.
So, we’ve kind of gotten a way that we have narrowed down to recognize misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation sort of. And we have a couple [of] community questions that I think would be great to address right now.
And one of the community questions submitted by a listener here in Lincoln is, “At what age should we be teaching individuals to identify misinformation and disinformation?”
A lot of our listeners were saying, [age] 10 to 12 range. Some were saying even younger between the [age] five to 10 range. I’m getting some nods here in the studio. You guys can’t see it, but I can. So why don’t we expand on that a little bit, see who we are agreeing with here?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I definitely agree with you younger. It starts at three. It starts at the time that you can start to understand and that you’re starting to talk.
If something is wrong, it’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with saying to a three-year-old, “You know what? That’s not correct. That’s not right. But this is right and this is why we know it’s right.”
Start young. Don’t wait to [age] 10, 12, 15, 20, 35 to start telling people that they’re wrong. Because then what happens is you have this kind of feeling of shame around being wrong. There’s no shame in being wrong. You’re not born knowing everything. And I’m not 35 knowing everything. There’s things that I’m wrong about. There’s things I was wrong about last week.
This is mildly off-topic, but one time somebody asked me, “What kind of opinion do you have?”
And I said, “I have strong opinions. I’m a strong woman with strong opinions.”
And they said, “That’s great. But I kind of think the most important opinion to have,” and this was like 12 years ago, “is a flexible opinion.” And the reason they said a flexible opinion…
I said, “Well, why would you wanna waiver in your opinion?”
And he said something that has stuck with me 12, 13 years later: “Because when new information is received, you then have the ability to incorporate it and adapt your opinion. You don’t wanna be so fixed that you’re doubling down on being wrong.”
So, I think, and that kind of goes back to the point where start young. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. There’s no shame. Let ’em know. Why are we waiting until 10 to say, “Hey, that’s misinformation. It’s not correct. I know you saw it on social media. Everyone on social media isn’t a doctor yet. They’re prescribing you this. Let’s not take that too serious.”
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. Amanda, you look like you had something you wanted to add there.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: I agree.
As early as possible when, if we are teaching phonics, we need to teach media literacy because it’s not just a matter of I’m going to understand why it’s incorrect. You need to explain that to people, and especially in this day and age, you need to explain the process you took to find out that that was incorrect.
One of the things that I’m seeing now in my classrooms is that there is… the students I’m seeing right now don’t know how to do a lot of media literacy. Don’t know how to do a lot of fact-checking. Don’t know how to run down, as Gatini was saying earlier, a source’s credibility; where did they go to school, what are their organizational memberships?
And it’s a really difficult thing, exactly as Gatini said, to think of yourself as an adult and find out that you have a big hole in how you are processing and understanding the world around you. And the earlier we can turn media literacy, which I include fact check, fact-checking to be a basic part of, right? The earlier we can teach media literacy at school the earlier we can do media literacy at home, the better it will be for everybody.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Right.
Because you know what? Some of these social media people that are on these sites, we need to teach media literacy. And that some of these sites that are blogs, they’re intentionally sensationalizing. It’s intentional disinformation; it’s got an agenda. And a lot of times the agenda is clicks, views, getting paid monetary gains, sponsorships.
But there are a lot of people who don’t know that. And, so, they’re not aware of kind of the other side of why they might have these types of agendas.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, I mean. Another thing that I keep hearing is adults who are saying, “Well, if my child isn’t on social media, then why should I bother?”
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Oh, no.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, Amanda.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Well, it’s, from my perspective, it’s sort of like a vaccination, right? Just because your kid isn’t licking door handles doesn’t mean they don’t need vaccinations. They do.
And when we have, you know, what I… there’s a… there is a new and emerging literature all about how do we help children responsibly and thoughtfully integrate media use, social media use into their lives, and education, and development.
And I will say that it needs to be really thoughtfully done. Which is, I’m sure, not a surprise to anybody because, if you don’t do it at all, you leave your child defenseless. If you let your child run into social media with no supervision, you leave your child defenseless.
One of the things that I’m beginning to read more about – because my nephew is 13, almost 14 – is what the effects of Instagram are on developing youth. And we’re really seeing a lot of increased anxiety, increased self-esteem problems body dysmorphia. Because a lot of kids are online on Instagram and because they don’t have the media literacy to understand how heavily edited Instagram pictures are. They are left thinking that this is an attainable, normal, desirable physique or face or way of dressing or whatever. And then they try to bend over backward to make that happen on themselves and when they can’t – because it’s an illusion it’s impossible to attain when they can’t. There really becomes a sort of crashing down of self-esteem and a worry about what’s gonna happen with me and my social position. To say nothing of cyberbullying and everything that surrounds social media, right?
So to those parents who say, “Oh, well, my kid’s not on it,” They’re still going to interact with it at some point, and they still need to know.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I agree with that wholeheartedly. I was literally sitting here when you said, Amantha, “Oh, but my… what about the parents who say, my child is not on it?” Is your child not on it or do they not have an account?
There’s a difference between not having a parent-approved account and sitting next to a classmate that says, “Hey, I got a cell phone. Check this out. This is so cool on TikTok.” Even when they’re not on it, they may still be exposed to it through a friend and someone in the school.
So, I think that you should start that media literacy, even if your child isn’t on it, with a parent-approved account because you don’t know when and where they will ultimately be exposed to it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I am so glad you mentioned that because I was just about to remind listeners that we had Stephanie Olson from the Set Me Free Project on [the show] a couple [of] weeks ago talking about human trafficking via social media. And she said almost word for word that just because your child doesn’t have an account does not mean that they don’t have social media in their life. There are plenty of ways to get to social media even if you don’t have a phone or you don’t have those apps downloaded. So thank you for bringing up that point, Gatini. I appreciate it.
Now we have our middle-of-the-hour break coming up. We’re gonna take just a moment, grab a couple [of] sips of water, and then we’re gonna be coming right back. We’re gonna continue our discussion about misinformation, disinformation, and malformation. I can talk, I really do promise you guys that I can talk. And we’ll be talking about how we combat misinformation. We’ll be talking about how newsrooms handle occasions of misinformation, so that’s gonna be a fun one. And then we can answer some of those community questions that you guys submitted through our survey, and we’ll talk a little bit more about those survey results as well.
But we’re gonna go ahead and take that minute and we will be back shortly. So don’t turn the dial.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to today’s episode of KZUM News.
We are continuing our media literacy series, which we kicked off last week. And as I’m sure all of you know, we have spent three months absolutely hounding you to participate in our survey. And now you’re kind of seeing some of the results of that survey. So I’m glad you could join us and learn a little bit more.
Today we are learning about disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation. And I say that differently every time I say it. So good luck to you guys.
But we have Gatini Tinsley here and Amanda Irions. And Gatini is the newest reporter for Channel 8 [News]. Amanda is the assistant professor and assistant data analyst for the Doane Crete Campus with their journalism program.
So, before the break, we were talking about what misinformation, disinformation, and malformation is, how to sort of recognize it, what age we think it should be taught at, and we sort of started to talk about combating it. Actually, we got pretty far into talking about how to combat it.
But we had one more community question that went along with that last point and it’s from a local listener. And they would like to know, “Are there topics that are more prone to misinformation and disinformation?”
I’m seeing a nod on both sides of the room right now. But do we want to talk a little bit about what those topics are and why those topics are more prone to misinformation and disinformation?
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: So, I can tell you, sort of like from a scientific perspective, there’s two answers to that question.
One is, what do scientists tend to do a lot of studies about; which is sometimes a different question than how prevalent is misinformation and disinformation about a particular topic, sort of out in the wild?
But one or two of the topics that we see a lot of misinformation, disinformation, malinformation about, that I’m sure will come as no surprise to anyone, are in the areas of health and in the areas of politics.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: My mind. Amanda is reading my mind.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: And, so, I mean… with politics, we sort of all accept that there’s a degree, kind of like, of advertising. Right? Of massaging, finessing, sometimes outright lying.
Although, wow, George Santos really knocked it outta the park. And, I gotta tell you, New York Times is the local paper there. Really let us down on that one. A separate issue. Which is in the importance of local journalism.
But I think, for me, one of the most consequential domains is the health domain, right? Because people seem to have, understandably, a very deep attachment to their bodies and what they want to do with it. And, so, I understand the intensity of like, “I wanna do the right thing. I care a lot about my body.”
However, that is a sort of a different process than, “I will believe this misinformation or disinformation. And I will continue to believe it even after I’ve been shown how it is wrong or understand that it is misinformation or disinformation.”
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I agree with her. 100% health and politics. Those are definitely topics where you see tons of information.
As I stated earlier, with Covid-19 we saw it spread like wildfires all through social media. Instagram, Twitter; people saying this, people saying that. People coming up with conspiracy theories that are completely unevidenced by anyone substantial outside themselves.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And I think it’s really interesting. Both of those were areas that were highlighted by our survey takers as being areas that they were really concerned about when it came to really being careful with fact-checking and that sort of thing.
But another area that I think of, that maybe others don’t, is entertainment. In terms of like… celebrity gossip. And an example of this would be the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp case.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Oh, yikes. Yeah, no, thank you. That was awful. Yes.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: We don’t have to talk about it too long, for Amanda’s peace of mind. But the way people often believe whatever is published and sometimes react to that very… I don’t want to say radically. [Be]cause that’s not the word that I’m looking for here, I don’t think. But… extremely.
So, I think that there are a variety of areas where you have to just be aware and cognitive of the potential for misinformation.
Yes. So, I hope that answered your question, listener. It was a bit rambly.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I also think that with politics and misinformation, part of the misinformation there is a belief system. And a lot of people… they don’t want to shatter the belief systems they’ve grown up with. So, they are not really willing to accept new information because of their belief system.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure.
Now we’re gonna just switch gears just a little bit. We’ve talked quite extensively about combating misinformation, disinformation, malinformation. But, now, we have a couple [of] community questions that go along with that as well.
Amanda looks very excited, so I hope that she is having some statistics and data for us. And I’m hoping that’s what that excitement is.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Boy, howdy. I love science. Or when science has a moment to shine.
Yes, I’m ready to go.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I’m glad. I hoped that’s what that smile meant.
So, the first community question – from here in Lincoln – is, “With an increased presence of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, can you teach us more about fact-checking?”
Which we’ve talked about a lot already. But I think, at the time, they were talking more about how to actually do the process. And, so, I thought maybe we could each find just a small example of how we engage in fact-checking in a day-to-day basis.
So, I know, Gatini, you mentioned that you’re looking at professional credits, that sort of thing. Organizations they work for, their educational history. Do you have like a concrete example for listeners?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yes. When you’re engaging in fact-checking, and it can get really extensive, and when it gets extensive that’s what I’m gonna pass it off to Amanda. [Be]cause I think she’d be a better fit because… okay, the fact-checking that you wanna do is you wanna look at government websites, you want to look at official websites. You don’t wanna look at Wikipedia where anybody can just go in there and get to writing anything and change things around.
You want to look at websites that are fixed, with data, and that cite their data and where that data derives from.
Now one of the things that can be tricky, which is where I’m gonna kind of pass it off to you, is when you get to qualitative and quantitative research and the manipulation of statistics. That’s where you can find yourself on tricky ground. And I’m sure Amanda knows a little bit about that. She’s the professor over here.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Amanda came prepared with the science for us.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Yes.
Well, with fact-checking, as Gatini said, there really is a persistence that needs to happen with it. And if we’re thinking about, like, examples of fact-checking, I always really emphasize triangulation.
So, if we think just about… I’m thinking of a state senator – a Nebraska state senator in the Unicameral – who reported that he had heard from someone who was…
Yes. Already we’re seeing the chain of a friend, of a friend, of a friend.
That there was a student whose school placed cat litter boxes in the classroom because one of the elementary school students identified as a cat.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Interesting.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Yes. And I heard that and I was like, “Where? How?
I heard that exact same transphobic, urban legend a few months prior in a different state.
And so it is really letting your ears prick up and getting curious and then being persistent and going and tracking down what that information is.
And turns out: yes, it is. It is a common urban legend that pops up, in the last few years, anytime there is a real fear that we are becoming – as though it were possible – too nice to transgender youth.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Inclusive. We’re becoming inclusive.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Right.
And, so, again, that persistence, that curiosity, and that willingness to take in new information as it presents itself and letting the information determine what you believe, instead of letting your beliefs determine what information you seek and take in.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: And I think you touched on something so important.
There’s a lot of urban legends and myths out there. Some of which I have believed my whole life; I grew up with my mom telling me, “Don’t go outside with your hair wet. That’s how you get a cold.”
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: I heard that too. Yep.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: And then, one day, I researched it and I found out that’s not how you get a cold. A cold comes from a virus. It doesn’t have anything to do with wet hair.
But you know, I grew up with it. And, see, that’s what happens with belief systems. You grow up hearing something in a belief system and you kind of listen to it, you believe it, and then you spread it.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Or when misinformation, [or] disinformation, hijacks an existing reasonable belief system, that actually serves a purpose.
I’m thinking of the urban legend that’s been around in various forms since the ‘50s, of poisoned Halloween candy or razor blades in the Halloween candy. There’s a sociologist who has written an entire book just about the urban legends that have been provably false in all cases, except one. And it was kind of an on-the-edge case, right? About how all of these urban legends, about Halloween candy have been false.
And, yet, this year we heard, it was all over Instagram, “Watch out for Skittles. People are putting rainbow fentanyl in Skittles bags and they’re giving them to your kids. And fentanyl is so dangerous that it will kill your kid immediately if they inhale some fentanyl dust.”
And one of my friends told me that and I was like, “I don’t think that any drug dealer’s just gonna be giving free drugs to one of the kids in bulk.” For… without any idea. I mean, just the economics of it didn’t make any sense to me.
And, so, my friend went and did some research, came back, and said, “Okay, first of all, you’re exactly right. That is not the case at all.”
But, second, and this is what I thought, “Oh no.” She went back to Instagram to try to find the posts that she had seen – that pricked her ears up – because she has kids and she couldn’t find those posts anywhere. And, so, one of the things that also is worrying to me is that it’s not just people being manipulated by misinformation and disinformation on the front end. Now, with social media and the power to delete posts, you don’t see traces necessarily – depending on the platform you use. If a post has been deleted, you go back a few days after Halloween to try to find out, do that persistence, do that curiosity. And it’s like it never happened and you’re just crazy for thinking it.
So it… there really is a sort of like, as you were talking about earlier Amantha, a skepticism and a guardedness that you need to approach media with. All information with.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And I think that’s a great addition. Because another thing I’d like to mention for listeners is when you are looking at social media accounts; deleted posts? That’s a red flag. If a social media account is only a couple [of] months old but they have lots of followers? That’s a red flag. If you have a social media account that is fairly new but they are putting out posts every hour on the hour? That’s a red flag. There are certain behaviors that are just not reasonable for an adult who is not investing a lot of time, energy into spreading information to take unless they have another agenda.
So, these are just some things to be keeping an eye out for when you’re on social media, particularly since these are platforms that are a huge source of misinformation, disinformation, and malformation.
Of course, we have talked quite a bit about why people persist in their beliefs of misinformation, disinformation, malinformation. But I’m gonna bring it back to good old K.Ecker with his research about why those persists. And I told you, Amanda, we’d circle back around. So we’ll touch on this, again, but why do people persist? Why is it so hard when presenting people with facts to get them to take you seriously and reasonably?
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: So, in addition to having that sort of identity involvement in it – because what I believe, depending on how intensely I believe it can be a part of who I am – and changing that belief also means I have to change something about how I understand myself. People are super resistant to that. In addition to people liking a nice, simple explanation for the world around them.
There was an interesting study in 2017, that Gordon and his team of researchers did, about the neural substrates of information processing. So, not just cognitively, like, how people are thinking about it, but in the brain what seems to happen. And they found that when we think about correcting or debunking misinformation and disinformation, the place that that seems to happen in the brain is in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is in the sort of frontal lobe. The frontal lobe, generally, does a lot of the executive reasoning functions that we really come to appreciate. The anterior cingulate cortex helps us typically with focus, with registering sensations and creating expectancies about the next time we encounter something.
And what Gordon and that team found was that misinformation is not overwritten by corrections, like we overwrite memory on a flash drive. Instead, what seems to happen, is that the misinformation and the new, updated correction sort of seem to sit – I’m speaking figuratively – side by side as two equally plausible, alternate explanations for what’s going on. And so that bit of insight. That there’s not an updating process, but rather it’s a both-existing-together process is another reason why it’s so hard.
Right. So that’s… there’s… it’s a complicated topic and it’s really insidious.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, that’s why there’s a lot of cognitive dissonances that individuals who are faced with this realization, that the information they have might not be correct, have.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Well, and, just to get a little bit onto you since you said one of the magic words of the day, cognitive dissonance.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Right.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Just to explain it for those who maybe haven’t heard a prior episode where it was discussed; cognitive dissonance is what happens when people have two mutually exclusive thoughts in their head at the same time and they need to reconcile them.
And there are a lot of ways to reconcile cognitively dissonant thoughts. But, typically, we do it or we see people do it by minimizing one of the thoughts or [unintelligible] it right? Or talking badly about it or finding a reason to hate it, thereby making the thought that they would prefer to hold onto the ‘Highlander’ of the thoughts: the only one remaining.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That’s really interesting.
I am really in… I won’t pretend to be even remotely literate in science as well as I maybe should be. But I find the subject of science to be particularly interesting, especially in these conversations.
And, then, we have another question that relates to all of these other community questions that we have; and it’s getting a little more into terms of fieldwork. But people wanna know, how do we hold people who are disseminating misinformation, disinformation, malinformation accountable for their actions?
Like… what can we really be doing to say, “Hey,” and how do we hold them accountable? Especially with social media, as we’ve talked very extensively about this afternoon.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Well, one of the things you can do from a reporter stance and an anchor stance is, if you see something or hear something or watch something from a newspaper or from a TV station and you know that it’s not true and you believe it not to be true, you can actually just email the news director. And you can actually email the reporter. They will dig into that. Specifically, the management, maybe not the reporter who wrote it. But the management will dig into it and then they… if they find that it is not true and it is inaccurate reporting, it will be retracted. And, sometimes, I know many people have seen that where when somebody comes on TV or in the paper, they issue a retraction, “Hey, we got this wrong.” They don’t like to do it a lot. Especially, some of your big – like your New York Times, your Washington Post – but they have done it.
And I think that that’s something that is crucial to do. Because anybody can be wrong about something. But to take that accountability when you are wrong? That is what’s going to retain viewership and readers.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, just to clarify, Channel 8 [News] will issue retractions? They don’t do content updates or…
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, okay.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Both.
You can do a retraction, which means you’re just gonna pull it all the way down depending on how bad it is.
Or you can update it with the accurate information. It happened to me, at Channel 8 News, where I got someone’s title wrong and they reached out to me. But I didn’t answer [be]cause I was on vacation.
But then they reached out to my news director and she responded and she emailed me, “Hey, you got this wrong. I updated it with the correct title. You know, that was her former title from five years ago. You looked at the internet, you’re not familiar with the town; you got this wrong.” And that’s what happened. I got it wrong. It was corrected.
And, so, you do always have that option to reach out. If somebody’s mistitled you, misgendering you the data is wrong, the statistics aren’t wrong, the story is wrong. Reach out, say something. Don’t just accept it. Don’t just let it slide.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And I want to stress for listeners that [this] is also the policy for KZUM Radio. We have not had anyone reach out for misinformation, and I’m hoping that means that I’m doing a good job. But, if there is ever a moment where you find that something is not correct, you can reach out.
We do our content warnings, content labels, that sort of thing; we will add an update to our transcript and we will start including audio labels before the show that say, “Hey, this information needed to be updated and this is the correct information.” So, similar to Channel 8 where Gatini works. We also do that and that’s going to be true with most stations I believe.
I guess, I don’t know [for sure]. Gatini, you have more experience at a variety of stations than I do.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yeah. All the stations that I’ve worked at in the past – WBKB, CMNTV, Channel 18 PBS, Comcast, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, the Michigan Chronicle – they all do it. You can get retractions, you can get updates.
Especially if it’s print. You’re gonna kind of get a retraction. Because, if it’s not on the digital side, you’re not gonna be able to update it. And they’re not gonna send out a whole new batch of newspapers for one update unless it’s huge. Something like New York Times will put it in there, [a] follow up. But smaller papers may not have the ability to facilitate that. But you can definitely have things updated and changed if you reach out.
Now, I do wanna put this caveat; everybody who reaches out saying that “This story is wrong.” The story is not wrong. There’s a difference between inaccuracies in the story and you just don’t like the story. Now I’m gonna say it: some of y’all just don’t like the story. That doesn’t make it wrong.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. And then I do… also want to clarify that KZUM does not actually do retractions. We do not ever remove content because we want to be transparent with our listeners. So we always provide updates – content updates – and labels instead of retractions. Just so that everyone is aware.
I know that our landing page for our ethics is still working on getting up. We’re working on getting our website building bids out. So hopefully in a month or so, we’ll have that. But in the meantime.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yes.
And, in case my news director is listening to this, we haven’t issued any retractions. It was an update. She did update the information. Just to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yes.
And then we have a new discussion point. Obviously, you just talked about what that process is like when it happens in the newsroom. We’ve talked about what that transparency with the public looks like in terms of content warnings or retractions. And we’ve got several community questions that go along with that subject too.
So, the one I’d like to address first is, “Do newspapers apologize?” [That] was the question. That is how it was framed. But I think what they wanted to know was… are we actively taking responsibility for these things.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I haven’t, in my experience, seen newspapers quote-unquote ‘apologize.’
I have seen tv journalists apologize. Not at my station. But in larger [companies like] CNN, MSNBC. Some of your larger top 50 market stations.
Top, for those who don’t know, TV goes on market station size. Our market here in Lincoln is a 105. But as you get up into those like top 50 markets you’re talking about Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, L.A., D.C; these, you know, kind of really populous cities.
And, yes, those TV reporters… they will apologize.
They will say, “Hey, I misspoke earlier today. I meant to say this. It came out as this. There was something that was large that happened where somebody put something wrong in the teleprompter.”
A lot of people don’t know that: the person reading the news is not always the person who wrote the news. They can be sometimes caught off guard.
And this particular anchor was talking about the Native American population. And she said, “And these creatures.” She called them creatures.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: No, no, no, no.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I remember this.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yes!
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: No.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: And it was a huge deal. She got back on air and said, “Hey there was a slip-up in the teleprompter. I did not mean to say that. I greatly apologize to the indigenous people.” And, so, yeah, she did apologize live on air.
You can’t on… I’ve also seen on a blooper reel where a reporter accidentally cursed. She didn’t know that her mic was on. She cursed. She came back and said, “Earlier today I did say a word that many of you find offensive and I apologize for using that word and it should not have happened.”
You know what I mean? Like… so, yeah, they do apologize.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And I feel like part of that conversation is medium.
I mean, it’s a lot easier for me to take five seconds and be like, “Sorry guys, I misspoke,” than it is for somebody who’s on air in the middle of a high deadline-intense pressure situation like Gatini where you are just always on air, basically. Yeah. So part of that is also medium to keep in mind, listeners, when we’re talking about transparency with errors in media.
But, Amanda, you look like you wanted to add in something there.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Well, it’s really good… from sort of like what we know about science and how do people have relationships with organizations. It is critical, especially when that relationship was with a news organization, to be able to believe what they say. And also believe that they will, if they find that they’ve gotten something wrong, they’ll tell you and they’ll correct it.
One of the things that we sort of see from the public relations literature is this idea of a crisis, right?
Something happens that damages the organization’s reputation. And getting something wrong for news organizations is something that damages the organization’s reputation. It does. And the best thing that can happen is news organizations say[ing], “Hey, we are going to deal with it. This is what happened, and this is how we’re going to be sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
And, so, that’s why when you were talking about the teleprompter incident, I imagine that there was a change to how they input text into the teleprompter.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yeah. And then what I, from being an anchor, what I kind of pictured with the teleprompter incident is, you know, you’re writing fast. They were talking about indigenous people and some of the creative things that they create and make to sell. And I can easily see how somebody would say ‘Indigenous creatives,’ and it came out as creatures. When you’re typing fast and you don’t catch it; and the next thing you know, somebody’s reading it. An entire group of people is offended.
So I… errors happen, mistakes happen.
But it, like you said, it’s very important because you can lose credibility. It’s going to take you quadruple the amount of time to rebuild that trust that you lost through one incident.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then I’m so glad that you mentioned after-effects.
What do you do after the event? That is another community question that we got, was how do we take the steps to rebuild trust after you’ve had a slip-up like that?
And I will tell a little personal story. In my early days of journalism, I had a woman who I had interviewed. And I had asked her; I was like, “I just want to double-check the spelling of your name. Is it k-a-t, Kat, or c-a-t, Cat?” And I could have sworn that she said K-a-t, Kat. And then she came back like a week later after the story was published and she was like, “You definitely spelled my name wrong. It is definitely C-a-t, Cat.” And I was like… I thought I was doing so good.
And part of that is the journalist in question just has to be a little more careful. Take the time to slow down. I will say, have not misspelled a name since.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Important learning opportunity.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Right? Yeah.
Yeah. As one of our reporters mentioned on last week’s show, he was like, “After that first mistake, I bet you’re never gonna make that mistake again.”
So, yeah. Why don’t we talk a little bit about after effects; how do we rebuild that trust in our outlets or organizations broadly?
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: I would say going back to what Amanda said, with the indigenous people’s incident that was on air, is setting new guidelines and new rules.
You know, one of the things that we practice at Channel 8 is the stories that I write… I’m not the only set of eyes on ’em. They go through a chain of command. Our lead anchors review the story so that they’ll catch anything that may perk up their ears, “Hey, let’s double check this,” or maybe, “Let’s change the writing structure or add this or exclude that.”
So I always think that implementing changes, and, specifically, when you’re in a media base field, adding those extra set of eyes to look over the work. Two is better than one.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. Having multiple editors is a great way to do it. Yes. Changing your guidelines.
Amanda, you looked like you had something you wanted to add there.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Yeah, just two quick things.
One; there’s a difference between taking accountability and being responsible and changing processes and taking punishment. Right?
And remembering that, when we talk about organizational trust, it really is how does the organization trust its stakeholders and how do the stakeholders trust the organization? It goes both ways. And it does take some time and some effort to rebuild.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Yes. And when you talk about that punishment versus changing processes, I think one of the things is like the incident that you spoke of; you’re a young journalist, you’re in these starter markets. There is an expectation that, at some time, you will make a mistake. You’re young, you’re new to your field, you’re not always going to get it.
Now you get to the New York Times level? There’s an expectation that you are, for the majority of the time, 99.9%, you’re gonna get this right. You’ve made it, you know, kind of up that ladder. So then it’s gonna be hard where, you know, they may come down more so with a punishment than a change in process.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. Well, unfortunately, we are out of time for today, Even though our conversation’s going so well and I’m sure we could continue on forever, honestly.
But next week we have a new set of panelists joining us. We’ll be talking about bias in the newsroom. And of course, thank you, Gatini. Thank you, Amanda, for joining us today. We appreciate you taking the time to talk about disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation with us.
Gatini Tinsley, KLKN TV Multimedia Journalist: Thank you so much for having me.
Amanda Irions, Assistant Professor and Assistant Data Analyst for Doane University: Thank you very much. It was nice to talk.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:
The KZUM newsroom is always open to hearing about any questions, concerns, suggestions, or even any story ideas that you want to share with us. All you have to do is give us a call at (402) 474 – 5086, extension line six. If you give us a call and we aren’t available, don’t forget to leave a voicemail. Or, if you aren’t much of a phone person, you can also find our social media handles and more newsroom information at kzum.org under that ‘About’ tab.
Speaking of our website, if you happen to miss a show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab where we archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to that day’s content.
And, lastly, I just want to give a shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. He put together all of the amazing original music that our news program uses. So, once again, thank you, Jack.
That wraps up our reminders for now. As you head out into the world, I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ll join us next time.
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