Need to Know: May 28, 2020


You might have heard: Facebook and other companies removed the viral “Plandemic” conspiracy video from their platforms (Washington Post)

But did you know: COVID-19 conspiracy theorists have found a new home on TikTok (BuzzFeed News)

Data compiled by the nonprofit First Draft shows that, as other social media platforms have been cracking down on coronavirus misinformation, much of it centered around the viral “Plandemic” video, posts tagged #Plandemic or containing snippets of the video have surged on TikTok. “Plandemic” contains long-debunked conspiracies and disinformation concerning COVID-19. “That will always happen. The moment the stuff gets crackdown in one place, they move to other platforms,” said Laura Garcia, the training and support manager at First Draft. TikTok is built to enable virality, and its main features like audio clips and special effects make it especially hard to track the spread of disinformation.

+ Noted: The Information announces a free “news summer school” aimed at helping students who have had their internships affected by the pandemic (The Information); IFCN’s COVID-19 WhatsApp chatbot is now available in Spanish (Poynter); The State in Columbia, S.C., will add newsroom jobs and move printing to Charlotte (The State)


7 ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it

How can you make sure essential information is getting to those who need it most — particularly those who don’t regularly turn to you for news? Fiona Morgan outlines several creative tactics for reaching vulnerable audiences in a physically-distanced world, including sending your reporting to community stakeholders, joining local groups on Facebook or Nextdoor, and partnering with local radio stations.


How to tackle the global undercount in COVID-19 deaths (GIJN)

From interviewing ambulance drivers, gravediggers and crematoria companies, to examining supply orders to funeral homes, reporters around the world are finding ways to build a clearer picture of COVID-19 deaths in their communities. Methods like using “proxy sources” and raw data (like audio files from emergency calls) have their limitations, which reporters need to be clear and upfront about, writes Rowan Philp. But they can also help make up for shortcomings in government data, especially in areas where testing is intermittent or there have been deliberate cover-ups of virus-related deaths.

+ ProPublica has made its internal Coronavirus Contracts tool available for public use. Use it to search federal COVID-19 purchases to see which vendors are supplying what, and for how much. (Twitter, @schwanksta)

+ A new newsletter dedicated to nontraditional job roles in journalism (Nick Petrie)


News Corp announces end of more than 100 Australian print newspapers in huge shift to digital (The Guardian)

Most of the community and regional newspapers will move to online mastheads, but more than 30 will close operations altogether, with job losses estimated to be as high as several hundred. “Despite the audiences of News Corp’s digital mastheads growing more than 60% as Australians turned to trusted media sources during the peak of the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, print advertising spending, which contributes the majority of our revenues, has accelerated its decline,” wrote Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia. Miller said the company would hire more “digital-only journalists” and invest in digital advertising and marketing solutions for partners.

+ TorStar, the company that publishes Canada’s largest daily newspaper, to be sold and taken private in $52 million deal (Toronto Star)


When are readers likely to believe a fact-check? (Brookings Institution)

A new study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that fact-checking’s effectiveness is often beyond journalists’ control. Whether readers believe a fact-check — and have their minds changed by it — depends on what they knew about an issue before encountering the fact-check, and whether they’re willing to admit if they don’t know much. Those who were informed about an issue, or admitted that they were not informed about an issue, were most likely to benefit from the fact-check. But those who were misinformed — who had facts about an issue wrong but were confident they were right — were least likely to be helped by a fact-check.


Trump expected to sign executive order that could threaten punishment against social media companies (Washington Post)

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that could roll back the immunity tech giants have for the content on their sites. The directive would target the controversial law known as Section 230, which spares tech companies from being held liable for the comments, videos and other content posted by users on their platforms. The order would also seek to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, which would be encouraged to probe whether tech companies’ content-moderation policies are in keeping with their pledges of neutrality.


Small towns won’t know they’re infected until it’s too late (The Atlantic)

The coronavirus pandemic is global — yet the most crucial information about the virus is hyperlocal, writes Mark Bowden. Bowden lives in Kennett Square, a small borough in Chester County outside Philadelphia. While the area’s local news outlets, like the Philadelphia Inquirer, paint a more cheerful picture of the region’s health, the county health department website shows that as of last week, cases had spiked alarmingly in Kennett Square. “There is not a word drawing attention to this local spike on the county health department’s website, which is tracking a much larger area,” writes Bowden — and so far, not a word written about it in the regional media, which is also focused on the greater Philadelphia area.