Florida trends and insights: Online misinformation, reporting opportunities

Dear FPA members,

This is the latest in a series through my work as the U.S. 2020 First Draft News fellow in Florida.

The intent is to provide newsrooms (reporters, editors, producers, researchers) and the community with a quick look at misinformation trends and data voids using examples in Florida. I also offer reporting tips and opportunities, and explore ways to avoid unintentional amplification of misinformation.

For more about the fellowship and my journalism and media background, click here.

I also offer free online training for anyone working in a newsroom or media outlet and for community members and leaders. Contact me at damon@firstdraftnews.com.

Note: All Florida journalists are invited to join First Draft’s growing press pool for reporting on coronavirus here. It’s free to join and you’ll have access to in-depth briefings on how misinformation flows online and what can be done to combat it.

Please contact me for any requests and if you see examples of misinformation trends, send screenshots to damon@firstdraftnews.com.

All the best,

Damon Scott, Florida Fellow

George Floyd protests

Protests spread quickly across Florida last weekend, less than a week after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. The mis- and disinformation space quickly focused on questions of “outside agitators” causing violence and vandalism, and whether certain groups were — or were not — involved in the protests. As First Draft partnerships and programs manager Shaydanay Urbani put it: “While it makes sense to track these narratives and try to verify certain aspects of them, getting too bogged down in these questions can undermine a perhaps more fundamental one — Why are people protesting?”

Takeaway: Press On published some great tips for journalists on ethical reporting on police violence and black-led resistance. The tips are: provide context, fact check, avoid false equivalency, be specific, don’t glorify police, and listen to black people. The full text is here.

Unsocial media

Florida law enforcement leaders and elected officials across the political spectrum called for justice for George Floyd and spoke out against those at the protests who incited violence and committed vandalism. Several made it a point to state that those in the Black Lives Matter movement were not involved in illegal activity, and that the vast majority of protestors were doing so peacefully.

However, it didn’t take long for others to take another track — fanning flames on social media. Florida State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, also a captain in the Florida Army National Guard, took to Twitter to post an image of an AR-15 — an apparent warning to potential looters. The post received thousands of retweets and tens of thousands of likes.

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican representing Florida’s first district in Congress, also posted a message on Twitter, apparently aimed at rioters and protestors. The post was marked by the platform as “glorifying violence.”

Takeaway: There is a misinformation trend — an attempt to lump protestors into one group — suggesting all protestors are dangerous and are prone to violence, vandalism and looting — having no regard for the rule of law.

Masks, continued…

In the last newsletter we mentioned a trend called “outrage outbreak” — often connected to mask-wearing guidance and regulations. In Florida, and other states, wearing a mask or not is often considered a social and political statement, instead of one based on health guidelines to protect from transmitting Covid-19.

There’s been a slight twist of late: the backlash against wearing masks has seeped into the mainstream in a way that it’s affecting how it’s reported. In the instance below, as a question: “Should you wear a face mask?” It’s prompted government officials to hold press conferences specifically on the subject (like the one in Jacksonville noted here) to assure the public that, yes, they should.

Takeaway: Masks present an ongoing reporting opportunity, in that, Florida has no statewide mandate that citizens must wear a mask, but there are local mandates and guidelines. It’s added to an overall confusion and gives air to those who say wearing a mask is not necessary, and is even unhealthy or dangerous.

Two more reporting tips from the First Draft team regarding masks:

  • Consider updating old reporting your outlet has that detailed mask regulations, if those regulations are now out of date. Research what the mask regulations are in your area and understand how they will affect your audience.
  • Investigate conversations on social networks in your area and what their discussions on this issue are centered around.

For more

Please share this newsletter with your colleagues and connect with me via email at damon@firstdraftnews.com.