At my reading clinic, students make paper models of rockets. Sometimes we make a true model of an actual rocket, such as the Saturn V shown. Other times, we enjoy writing stories about make believe rockets, such as the Peaceful Explorer—it doesn’t exist. We must be able to distinguish between fact and fiction. This is a major problem confronting schools this year.
Everywhere you turn on the Internet, TV, Facebook, and even the radio, you hear someone using the word misinformation. Misinformation is false, inaccurate, or misleading information. Misinformation can be very dangerous, especially when people use it to deliberately confuse someone.
- A 15-year-old girl died this past week from COVID in Pensacola, Florida. She wasn't vaccinated. Her father regrets not having gotten his daughter vaccinated and said, “It’s something that’s going to be stuck with me for my whole life, thinking maybe I should have done that sooner…. Maybe I could’ve done something to help prevent this.”
- A 15-year-old boy died on September 5th from COVID in Louisville, Kentucky. He wasn't vaccinated. His father said, "I'm going to do my part.... I’m going to go take my vaccine…. As bad as it sounds, once it affects them personally, then they'll change their minds." The father is also now encouraging everyone to wear a mask.
These are just two tragedies that might have been prevented. One father said he had been waiting for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to give final approval on the vaccine. The FDA granted full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on August 23, 2021, and 15-year-olds have been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine since May 12, 2021.
Why did these parents wait? Why did they risk their children's lives? I contend because they listened to misinformation.
Let’s look at an example of dangerous misinformation. This is an example of a false claim—misinformation with the intent to mislead others. Reports such as this one have many parents confused about what is true and what is false. Remember, this internet example has been proven to be false—a lie. Tom Kertscher wrote this report on the false claim:
“A healthy Colorado teen died two days after receiving a coronavirus vaccine, according to a number of websites, including the conspiracy oriented InfoWars. This was the headline on WeLoveTrump.com, which a reader asked us to check:
“15-Year Old Boy Passes Away from Heart Attack Two Days After Pfizer COVID-19 Experimental Jab."
“The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.”
As far as anyone knows and could discover, there was no Colorado teen who died from the vaccine. This was an out-and-out lie to intentionally mislead people, especially parents who were nervous or afraid of the vaccine. Why would someone intentionally do this? This is misinformation of a most evil nature. As I mentioned at the beginning, young people are dying because they have not received the vaccine.
As a psychologist who works with children, I know exactly how damaging misinformation can be. I direct a reading clinic for children who are struggling or failing in reading. We've been wonderfully successful and have even had failing children move up as much as four grade levels in reading in one year. Yet, I will never forget a young man who tried to commit suicide one afternoon because of misinformation that he had been told the day before by an adult not associated with my program.
Yes, misinformation can kill.
Misinformation is not some political game or a simple political difference of opinion. Children are dying, and while children are dying, politicians, people who oppose the vaccine, and those who oppose wearing masks are spreading misinformation and demanding their “freedom to choose.”
When will children be allowed “to choose” to live?
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, explained why the coronavirus is so much more dangerous for children at school this year than last year. As he said in a recent interview, delta is more dangerous for children because it's so much easier to catch the virus in the classroom.
“…more than 400 children have died of COVID-19. And right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICU, some of them under the age of four…. This means that “kids are very seriously at risk….”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), as of September 18, 2021, 159 children between the ages of 0 to 4 years old have died from COVID and 357 have died between the ages of 5 and 18 years old. That is a total of 486 children.
Yes, I know that there are people gossiping on the Internet claiming that 486 deaths is not a significant number. They say that more children die from other causes and then go on to justify their claim by telling how many died from guns, auto accidents…. The old saying that two wrongs do not make a right still applies. It is time to stop gossiping on social media and do something because….
COVID-19 is spreading through the schools like wildfire.
COVID-19 can be very dangerous for children.
COVID-19 definitely affects children’s ability to learn.
Earlier Post: We Must Have Mask and Vaccine Mandates to Protect Children
Would stopping the spread of misinformation prevent children from dying?
The experts – the people who know what they’re talking about – believe that it would. Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, M.D., critical care specialist and pulmonary care expert at Cleveland Clinic, does not specifically talk about misinformation, but he does explain how important it is for us to use preventive measures, which are often the target of misinformation. Dr. Khabbaza says that:
“The more things you do that are meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the more successful they’ll be…. So get vaccinated, first and foremost, then keep taking the actions that we know will keep us more protected from infection: masking, social distancing, hand-washing, staying outdoors, opening windows, and the like.”
Therefore, preventive measures, such as wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, are extremely important to preventing the spread of COVID-19, delta variant. If misinformation keeps people from getting vaccinated or from wearing a mask, then yes, misinformation is extremely dangerous and should be stopped.
How can we tell if information on social media is true or false?
We're going to examine two examples of bad social media misinformation. My purpose is to give you some guidelines on how to evaluate what you read on social media, so I have picked two really bad examples—out-and-out lies.
First, let's go back to our previous example of a false claim or lie that was placed on Facebook. Remember, this claim has been proven to be wrong and has since been removed from Facebook.
"15-Year Old Boy Passes Away from Heart Attack Two Days After Pfizer COVID-19 Experimental Jab."
What alerts us to the fact that this is misinformation?
- The claim did not include a link to further information. Usually, when you read a bold statement on social media, there should be a link to send you to further explanation or evidence. If you are reading a bold statement such as the one above and are not able to find evidence or justification for it, it is most likely a lie. If someone actually had evidence, they would share it with everyone. Remember, gossip and lies do not have evidence to support them.
- Evaluate the site that you're reading. Is the site primarily for entertainment purposes or for factual information? We all read gossipy social media sites occasionally, but before you believe what is printed or spoken, check the source. Is the site primarily a biased source, a gossip source, or a political source? Unfortunately, the majority of social media sites are biased. Political sites often distort, even just a little bit, to make their position or candidate sound better. COVID-19 is a health issue, not a political one, so turn to health sites for health issues. You do not take your children to a politician when they are sick. You go to the doctor, so go to a doctor for information about your child’s health. Stop trusting politicians with your child’s health.
- Check the source, the author of the information. Is this person an expert? This is one of our biggest problems with misinformation. Most of us can tell whether a site offers evidence or comes from an unbiased source, but how do we tell the difference among rival experts? Let's look at our second example of misinformation. A lawyer used misinformation from an online source in court for a lawsuit. Devon Link from USA Today writes this report:
“On July 19, attorney Thomas Renz filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of America’s Frontline Doctors – an organization known for spreading misinformation about vaccines and COVID-19 treatments.
“In the complaint, Renz described an analysis from an unnamed whistleblower that claimed to find evidence there were actually 45,000 deaths related to COVID-19 vaccines. This finding is based on the whistleblower's alleged expert analysis of unverified data.”
Several fact checkers investigated the lawyer’s claim and found absolutely no evidence to support the misinformation that he quoted in court. Yet, the misinformation is still being shared online, even after it has been proven to be false--a lie.
Let me quote one report that shows how this story is ongoing because misinformation from this one lie is still being spread on social media. This story refers to the whistleblower account as the “BitChute video.”
“…the BitChute video has been viewed at least 13,000 times, and has been amplified by the Daily Expose and other disinformation sites. Other sources of misinformation shared the video. They include Denis Rancourt, a former professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, who shared the video in a post with at least 555 retweets. Rancourt has previously shared misinformation about face masks …. The video has also appeared on Rumble.
“Anti-vaccine actors often intentionally distort data published on VAERS, which was set up for early warning purposes and may contain “incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable” information. VAERS reports have frequently been cited in misleading ways to spread misinformation about the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.”
Do you see how the lie just keeps spreading from one social media site to another? It’s still ongoing today, right this minute. Once it starts on social media, misinformation is very hard to stop. There are parents who are still refusing to get their children vaccinated because they believe this lie. Yes, misinformation can and does kill children.
So, how do you tell a good expert from a bad expert?
With my own writing, I try to be very accurate. I check and double check my sources. I'm a psychologist, and I am writing as a psychologist. I'm trying to present the best, most accurate information that I can find.
Unfortunately, as our earlier example from the courtroom shows, it is hard to tell when someone is telling the truth. Just checking someone’s credentials is often not enough.
There is no clear-cut answer for deciding which expert to believe. My response is: Would you trust this person with your child’s life? Would you call this person if your child was sick? If your child does get COVID, is this where you will take your child for treatment?
If not, then I wouldn’t trust them with my child’s life because that is what you are doing when you fall victim to these social media sites that thrive on spreading misinformation.
Don't be a victim of misinformation. Evaluate everything you read online and in print. Also, evaluate what you hear on the radio and on TV.
Don't fall victim to misinformation on social media. The life you save may be your own or your child's. Don't be swayed by gossip. Search for the truth.