May 20, 2021

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it on your email every Thursday.

Teens’ Top 5

The MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network, a team of teenagers that use social media to debunk viral claims, recently concluded a 30-part fact-checking series on YouTube. The series, “Is This Legit?,” got started through a fact-checking development grant from the IFCN and was supported by YouTube as part of the Google News Initiative.

Billed as “for teens, by teens,” the media literacy YouTube series covered a little bit of everything — politics, pop culture, conspiracy theories and, of course, COVID-19. Looking back at the work from the TFCN from the past year, which involved fact-checking on a variety of platforms, here are five of the biggest misinformation trends tackled by students in the program.

1. How dangerous is COVID-19, really?

Claims questioning the severity of the coronavirus were a regular occurrence on students’ timelines. The TFCN debunked misinformation regarding the virus’s mortality rate, as well as false claims comparing the virus to the common flu.

2. Cures that … aren’t really cures

In addition to debunking viral remedies, like injecting bleach or the use of hydroxychloroquine, students also debunked claims being spread on more teen-dominated platforms, like the claim that smoking weed can kill the coronavirus or that vaping is a good preventative measure. (Both not legit.)

3. “COVID-19 tests are dangerous”

COVID-19 conspiracy theories took over teens’ timelines, with many claims targeting the safety of the coronavirus test itself. Teen fact-checkers debunked the viral claim that getting tested for the coronavirus would actually give you the virus, and recently took on the claim that the tests contain nanoparticles that enter your brain and allow you to be tracked.

4. The “Big Lie” and Jan. 6 insurrection 

Over the course of 2020, MediaWise Teen Fact-Checkers debunked countless claims about the integrity of the U.S. presidential election. What became known as the “Big Lie,” social media posts claiming the election was rigged started early with misinformation going viral about the safety of mail-in voting. As misinformation continued to escalate, MediaWise teenagers flagged multiple claims about the storming of the U.S. Capitol that went viral on YouTube.

5. Social justice issues

Following the murder of George Floyd, teenagers were exposed to hundreds of viral claims on social media about the resulting protests against police brutality. Teen fact-checkers debunked multiple claims, including the false claim that a “mall train” driving through protests was stolen, and that a children’s hospital was set on fire by protesters.

MediaWise will continue the “Is This Legit?” YouTube series, and is currently accepting applications from teenagers for the program’s summer session. The deadline to apply is May 31. 

For college-aged students interested in media literacy, the MediaWise Campus Correspondents project is back for another year. Campus correspondents will learn how to spot misinformation online, then train their peers on these important skills during virtual trainings at schools across the country. Campus correspondents also produce a range of social media content and are paid per training. The deadline to apply is May 31.

– Alexa Volland, TFCN editor

Interesting fact-checks

Screenshot by AFP of Instagram post

  • Agence France-Presse “Covid-19 vaccines do not contain magnetic microchips” (in English)
    • In debunking the latest iteration of the “secret microchip” conspiracy, AFP pointed to public information about the various vaccines to show that none of them contain metallic ingredients. It also noted that the amount of metallic material needed to make a household magnet stick is much greater than the standard syringe could hold.
  • Dubawa “Photos of unmarked helicopters purportedly flying over Maiduguri forests from the US, not Nigeria” (in English)
    • A Twitter thread used photos of unmarked helicopters to bolster a false claim that the French government was supporting rebel groups in an attempt to overthrow the Nigerian government. Dubawa used reverse image search to find these photos were taken from three separate news articles about low-flying helicopters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Medina County, Ohio; and Charleston, South Carolina.

NOTE: Last week’s newsletter had a bad link for Lead Stories’ fact check about a fake gas station sign. We apologize for the mistake and you can read the fact check here.

Quick hits

AP Photo/Andy Wong, File

From the news: 

From/for the community: 

If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at by next Tuesday.

Thanks for reading Factually, and a special thanks to Alexa for joining us this week.

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Alexa Volland is a multimedia reporter with the MediaWise project. Before joining Poynter, she was the web editor for the Tampa Bay Times’ high school…
Alexa Volland
Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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