Part One

Introduction by Dan Gillmor

Dan Gillmor, an internationally recognized author and leader in new media and citizen-based journalism, teaches digital media literacy and is co-founder of the News Co/Lab.

Dan Gillmor

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It’s a messy world of information these days: messy in countless ways, in countless places. That’s a challenge we can meet, not a disaster we can’t avoid.

My small town in Northern California, like countless communities around the world, has a Facebook group where residents talk about local news — sometimes global news that has local impact.

Facebook users can join groups like this one in Arizona, dedicated to sharing news and events in their community.

That was the case recently when a local man posted a warning about the COVID-19, new coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic — and a once-in-a-lifetime emergency in which high-quality information is not just important, but essential.

What the local man posted, however, was wrong. It was misinformation, and deeply alarming misinformation at that. I won’t describe it here, because I don’t want to spread it further.

My response took two forms. I sent my neighbor a private message, noting that what he’d posted was factually incorrect, according to every public-health expert who’d been quoted on the topic. But I didn’t accuse him of doing a bad thing. I said something roughly like this:

I’m glad you are taking Covid-19 seriously, because it could get very bad. I did want to let you know that something you posted in the group was based on information that has, according to all the public health folks, been shown to be incorrect. I hope you’ll consider either taking down your post or adding the following from the public health agency.

I included a link to the agency’s correct information. He revised his post.

I then posted my own item in the group: It was from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a humorous GIF that offered, in a twist on the World War II British motto “Keep calm and carry on,” this one: “Keep calm and wash your hands” — wise advice given that handwashing is one of the best ways we can all help prevent uncontrolled spread of the virus and others. (Knowing what science has shown us since those early days of the pandemic, I would change that advice. I’d find a GIF saying, “Keep calm and wear a mask.”)

Perhaps my actions, in my small town, helped make our information ecosystem a little less messy. I hope so.

The point is I tried.

And I want to encourage all of you to try, too.

That’s what this course is all about. We have to try together, by learning, showing, and doing.