Explaining a pause
This week, fact-checkers in the United States faced a similar challenge to one faced by their European counterparts a little less than one month ago. In mid-March, several European countries paused their use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after a small number of patients reported developing blood clots shortly after receiving the vaccine. European fact-checkers shifted gears to explain the decisions of their countries’ health departments.
So far, U.S. fact-checkers have echoed moves by their European counterparts after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after similar reports of clotting in that vaccine. Most, if not all, have opted to explain the reasoning for the decision as well as what it could mean for their audiences.
FactCheck.org explained the mechanics of the rare blood clots, and why the six cases out of a total of approximately 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots were concerning enough to pause the rollout. They quoted Dr. Peter Marks, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, who cited the clots occurring in conjunction with low blood platelet counts necessitating the pause and further study.
FactCheck.org also explained the connection between the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. Both use the same “vector,” or method, to teach a body’s cells how to fight COVID-19. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use an mRNA vector, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use an adenovirus vector, which is a deactivated virus that carries the data to cells. U.S. officials observed the similarities in the clotting and low blood platelet counts as those present in Europe, which they speculated may be due to this similar vector.
PolitiFact staff writer Bill McCarthy wrote a piece explaining what the Johnson & Johnson pause means for those who’ve already received the vaccine. He cited experts who noted that only those who’ve recently gotten the vaccine should be vigilant about any potential symptom. Those who’ve been vaccinated for more than a couple of weeks and haven’t had symptoms are most likely fine, experts said.
MediaWise used a series of tweets to both explain the development, and use it as a teachable moment for how to avoid misinformation linked to breaking news. Its thread pointed out how headlines like, “U.S. halts J&J vaccine due to blood clots,” lack context, and advised its audience to read beyond the headlines while also linking to a training video from MediaWise ambassador Joan Lunden.
- Faktograf.hr “The larvae will not come out of the FFP2 mask if you lightly bake it for 90 minutes” (in Croatian)
- A German man claimed (falsely) in a viral video that he had hatched larvae after putting an FFP2 face mask in the oven for 30 minutes at a temperature between 40 and 50 degrees celsius. Faktograf.hr created its own video repeating the man’s supposed experiment, and found this was not the case.
- GhanaFact “COVID-19 vaccines do not alter your DNA” (in English)
- This fact check flagged a heavily forwarded WhatsApp video that took false claims by two Western scientists and a medical journalist and dubbed them into Ghana’s most widely spoken indigenous language Twi. Ghana Fact debunked each claim, explaining the COVID-19 vaccines don’t alter DNA, the vaccines are safe and effective and the pandemic is real.
From the news:
- “Exploring YouTube And The Spread Of Disinformation,” from NPR. As part of a broader series looking at the spread of mis- and disinformation, NPR looks at the role YouTube plays in hosting and proliferating the spread of harmful online falsehoods.
- “Northern Ireland: The role of social media in stirring up unrest,” from Sky News. Nightly protests unfolding in Northern Ireland over opposition to the Brexit deal are being fueled by disinformation and calls to arms spread on private messaging apps.
- “Why Do A Bunch Of Nigerian Twitter Influencers Want This Alleged Money Launderer To Go Free? They’re Being Paid,” from BuzzFeed News. An investigation by BuzzFeed and Digital Africa Research Lab uncovered documents from a United Kingdom-based nonprofit outlining a campaign to pay Nigerian influencers to artificially boost hashtags supporting the alleged money launderer.
From/for the community:
- El Sabueso, the fact-checking unit of the Mexican media outlet Animal Político, is partnering with independent media outlets in Chihuahua and Sinaloa to fight misinformation ahead of national elections in June.
- Full Fact, based in the U.K., offered this breakdown of the facts surrounding the reports of blood clotting potentially related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- A report from Brazillian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos found that videos featuring Brazillian doctors spreading COVID-19 falsehoods received 30.8 million views on YouTube, with the majority of these coming from interviews published by mainstream news outlets.
Events and training
- April 16 — The Environment for Tech Regulation: The Shorenstein Center at Harvard University is hosting a talk with Tom Wheeler and Michael Copps, two former members of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, about current tech regulations and what potential changes they think could help. Sign up here.
- April 27 — Lives at risk: the impacts of misinformation on health: Brazillian fact-checking organization Agência Lupa is holding a training in Portuguese looking at the types of health misinformation in the country and its impacts. Sign up here.
- May 10-13 — The United Facts of America Festival: PolitiFact is hosting a celebration of fact-checking featuring over 10 hours of virtual programming including talks with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Get tickets here.
If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at email@example.com by next Tuesday.