Casey’s parents both work in healthcare, but that does not always keep them from believing and sometimes sharing false information whose sources are dubious at best. A pro helps us understand the challenges inherent in this situation and work through tools to empower our loved ones.
Our expert, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, is the director of Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. She joins the podcast to talk about helping your family members to feel empowered in finding solid, reputable news sources and sharing the information they learn. You can visit the organization's website, or follow them on Twitter @MediaLiteracyEd.
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Hi, everybody. Welcome back to How to Talk to Mamí and Papí About Anything. This is our second episode. Thank you for coming back, and welcome to those of you who are listening for the first time. I’m Juleyka Lantigua-Williams. I’m the host and creator, and every week, I talk to adult children of immigrant parents who are facing a heavy situation from which the rest of us might learn a thing or two. I also talk to experts who have experience, and knowledge, and wisdom, who can help us understand and move through the specific situations that our guests are facing.
And for this episode, I’m going to be talking to two guests about misinformation during COVID-19. Which, as many of you probably have noticed, misinformation has been rampant. You know, everything from erroneous medical advice, to conspiracy theories, and an overabundance of fake news. Everything is just at a heightened level at this moment, and it’s creating a lot of confusion, and also increasing fear surrounding the virus. This week, we’re going to talk to a journalist whose parents have a little bit of trouble discerning real news from misinformation, and so she’s asking for a little bit of guidance on how to handle that. Let’s get into it.
Casey: Hi, my name is Casey. My family is Filipino, and in our family we call them Nanay and Tatay. I am a journalist. I have been working as a reporter covering coronavirus, general breaking news, pop culture, entertainment, for the past almost five years now, and my parents both work in healthcare, so because of that, you would assume that with all of the coronavirus news, with all of the public health information going on, and all of the misinformation spreading across all of the internet, that they would have a better handle of what is real and reliable versus what is fake and sensationalist. I assumed that a little bit going into the situation, into the pandemic, that they would have a good handle on it, but that wasn’t the case, and these past couple of days I’ve been fielding many questions. Thankfully, questions from my parents, where they’re like, “Is this real? Is this fake? Is this something I should be worried about?”
Yesterday, my mother sent me this one image post from Facebook, where it was apparently from a doctor who posted online that steam and hot water was being used by people in China to cure the coronavirus, and it ended with day one, they steamed their entire house, they took steam baths. By day five, they were corona negative was the exact wording. And my mother sent that to me, and she was like, “Is this true?” And to me, it had every red flag highlight of a fake news. It was a screenshot. It wasn’t a text post. The person who claimed to be a doctor, I could have Googled them, but I knew that they weren’t. The avatar was like an egg, like on Twitter, so I didn’t go into detail about why these were red flags to my mother, because to me all of it was automatic.
I knew. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know not to trust that, and what a fake post looked like. My mother didn’t, so I could just simply say, “That’s not reliable. If you want accurate information, I just always recommend the CDC and the World Health Organization.” She thanked me, because she was scared and she wanted the information, and she wanted honestly to know if it was true.
Man. Hearing Casey say that brought back so many memories of my own mother sending me newspaper clippings about impending winter storms when I was upstate in New York at college. Sending me images about terrorism in Europe when I was studying abroad. And about gas attacks in subways in Japan when I lived there. I’m not sure why she thought I wasn’t aware of these things, but she always managed to pick out the absolute possible worst news about the places where I was living, especially the further I was away from her. So, I get it. I definitely get the instinct to sound the alarms, and to warn your kids, and to let them know how to protect themselves, I guess. But man, it’s amazing that parents universally kind of do that.
Casey: Before, I wasn’t always a filter. If this were six years ago, my parents would just believe what they saw, and then they would tell me, and then they would tell me to do the steam bath. Now I am at least very thankful that they ask me is this true. And getting to this point was really difficult. Of course, there were a lot of arguments, either virtually on Messenger, or WhatsApp, or in person, and it did get very heated, like especially during the 2016 election when so much misinformation, and not just the 2016 election in the United States. It was also the 2016 election in the Philippines with President Rodrigo Duterte. That was really difficult, because both elections had such severe repercussions and consequences, and beyond the repercussions, just so much misinformation happening everywhere that it was very difficult to talk about anything with my parents without getting too heated.
For me, it is frustrating sometimes. I want them to have a better understanding what’s out there, because it affects them directly, of course. But at the same time, I always have to know that I come into the situation with a lot more background knowledge of what is floating in the internet, and that is something that they don’t automatically know, so it’s a lot of coming to terms with both of our life experiences and perceptions of the world.
Media literacy is a huge issue right now. That much became apparent with the 2016 election and has only multiplied since then. To explain why this happens and how to be more responsible when sharing things we read online, I called in an expert.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin:
My name is Michelle Ciulla Lipkin and I’m the Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. We’re the largest membership organization around the globe and we’re dedicated to making sure people have the skills they need to not only survive but thrive in the media-saturated world.
So, what does that mean?
So, that means we need to really think a little differently these days about what it means to be a literate citizen in the world. So, it used to be that you wanted to be able to read and write text, and certainly that’s very important. That’s foundational literacy. But we really want to understand how to kind of write, and consume, and author, and create using all types of communication, so in order to really be a literate citizen in the digital age, you need to understand the digital communication skills.
Tell me, what do you hear when you listen to Casey’s story?
First of all, I really appreciate Casey’s struggle, but I have to say that it also doesn’t worry me as much as I think she’s worried, because the key thing is happening. She has parents that are struggling to assess information, and instead of just like sharing it out, they’re double checking. And that is the first part of the battle. So, she’s in a good shape. Casey, you’re in good shape. You have people that are asking if it’s true.
And obviously, it can get frustrating, and like I said, I feel her pain, because there’s so much information out there that seems obviously false, but I think people get really, really confused, and what really stuck out to me about Casey’s story, I guess there are two things. One is that I hear people all the time simply asking the question, “Is this real? Is this true?” And while that’s really important, that’s such a simple question to ask about very complicated information. So, sometimes I think we’re asking the wrong questions, because it is one thing for Casey to tell her mother, “Mom, that isn’t true.” But what you need to do is teach her mother how to figure it out herself. There are skills that Casey’s mom can learn to be able to figure it out on her own, and I think that’s really important.
And also, I think in the COVID-19 misinformation space, it does make sense to really think about is this true or not, because health misinformation is sometimes very specific. Like, we’re seeing a lot of remedies. I just got an email from someone who told me to eat four eggs and drink a glass of milk everyday, and what I think is happening though, and I think is what is happening even with Casey’s mom, is that we’re scared, and we want simple solutions. So, one of the reasons she’s sharing that information with Casey is because she hopes it’s true. She wants it to be true. And so, we don’t dismiss things if we want it to be true, and that is with health literacy, it’s also with political content. If we want to believe it, we’re gonna believe it.
And so, I think that’s really important to recognize, that one of the reasons her mother might be pausing is A, she’s an older person in the age of a pandemic that is affecting older people more than younger people, so there’s anxiety there. Even if she’s a healthcare worker, or because she’s a healthcare worker, she might be even more scared, so I think you have to understand why she wants to know what she wants to know. The other thing that I think is really important to remember is the kind of generational divide with information. First of all, Casey’s a journalist, so she’s trained to be skeptical. She’s trained to search. She’s trained to verify. But she’s also of a younger generation that have grown up with more complex digital tools, and have really learned over time that skepticism is something you have to have, right?
So, the younger generation is a little more savvy in that way, and older generation, they grew up in a time where what you read and what you saw, they didn’t question it. They believed it. If it was published, it was true. And so, they still have those instincts, and so you have to have some skills to decipher quality of information, and we can’t expect people to just know that, so we have to teach them.
Let’s take a moment there and talk about those maybe four or five core skills that someone like Casey, a younger daughter, a niece, a nephew, can pass on to someone older and say, “These are the four things that you’ve gotta look for, so that you can yourself decide if something is accurate, or true, or useful.”
I think especially in this moment in time, being able to identify the source is key. So, there’s a lot of misinformation right now about coronavirus. A lot of that information is actually very low tech. It’s the text messages that are getting forwarded. It’s the cut and paste Facebook post that’s from my cousin’s friend, who’s a nurse in Indiana, sent this to me. And there’s no source. So, if you go to your Facebook page and you ever see something like, “I cut and paste this. I don’t know who wrote this. I heard,” like no, people. No. Dismiss it. And most of all, don’t share it. Stop the spread of misinformation. So, that’s the first thing.
And then verifying and making sure the information has some quality to it, and that’s really then you have to… Is this appearing anywhere else? Are other sites talking about this? In this particular case, especially with health literacy, you have to look towards the experts. And right now, we do have experts. We have the CDC. We have the WHO. And you have to trust that they have the best information that they can share at this moment in time.
So, I want to ask you something, though, because I think a point that you made earlier about the generation before us used to think, “If it’s printed, it must be true.” Another I think throwback is that if an authority, like a president, says it, then it must be true. And I know that in my life, I have older people in my life who are struggling with, “But the president is saying this, and then my local newspaper or my Spanish-language newspaper is reporting something different.” So, in this instance, what do we then tell our mom, our dad, our tío, our tía, about the fidelity of information that might be coming from what should be reliable sources?
Yeah. I think that’s such a good point, and like what do we do if we can’t trust our leaders to give us the best information? To me, and from a media literacy perspective, that goes to the intent of the message and the intent of the messenger. So, we do have to recognize that politicians, whether we support them or not, they all have an agenda. They all have an intention. And we have a presidential election coming up, and you cannot ignore that in the messages that are coming out of the White House, or out of the Senate. We have a political environment that’s fractured, and we have a huge election coming up, so we have to recognize the intent. And what you want to look for is messengers that intent is to inform you, and that’s why I like the expert.
So, the CDC, WHO, their intent is to inform. That’s what they’re intending to do. It doesn’t pay for them to give us wrong information. It doesn’t help them if they’re spinning information. So, their intent is to inform, so you have to think about the intent. Here’s one thing I want to say. There is so much information out there, and it is hard to navigate. This isn’t easy. So, when I give advice to say, “Find the source. Verify the source.” I know that that can be hard, so my other kind of third advice is just don’t share it if you don’t have the time to do that. It’s not worth the share if you don’t have the time to do your due diligence and make sure the information is valuable and quality information. And I think that’s really important for the older generation.
So, Casey’s parents are maybe two steps ahead of where a lot of our other parents or older relatives might be, so let’s keep going with those three or four things. So, first you said confirm the source, right? Make sure that it’s a good source. Secondly, see if it is being reported the same way somewhere else. After we do that, how else can we discern whether or not this is something that is reliable, shareable?
I want to kind of twist it a little bit if that’s okay, is in this moment in time, it’s more important to seek out a small bit of quality information than a large part of possibly poor information. If your goal is to be informed, it doesn’t mean that you need to be consuming news all day long. You know, a person who has CNN on in the background during their entire day is not more informed than someone who takes a half hour in the morning to read a few articles, to listen to a podcast, and maybe check in at the end of the day also.
More information does not mean more informed. And right now, we’re in an infodemic, right? Just like we’re in a pandemic, we’re in an infodemic, and there is so much information coming at you. Do not try to keep up. Don’t even try to keep up. Seek some quality information. Do your due diligence in the morning, at the nighttime. Turn off your notifications. You don’t need to know everything that’s happening the moment it happens. And take care of yourself. Take a breath. And you know, information is evolving, it’s changing, it’s not healthy to be paying attention to it 24 hours a day.
But like, you’re allowed to advise them, and allowed to point them in a different direction, and I did that recently with my mom. My mom’s like, “I don’t know who to listen to.” And I just said, like Reuters is a really, really good place to start. It’s really solid journalistic work. Get the app. Look at it in the morning. Anything else that you see that you want to look at other sites but start with Reuters. So, I think we can advise them and help them, because then they’ll feel empowered.
All right, so my last question is for someone like Casey, if they hit an impasse, what is the, “Pull in Case of Emergency” lever for a situation like this, where you feel like the information might actually be endangering or causing damage to your family member?
In a situation where you really feel like your parent’s in danger because they’re listening to certain medical advice, I think you just have to share with them what’s been proven, like share with them more information, and then certainly you would have to maybe request that they talk to a trusted person in their life, like a medical doctor. People that they trust. They’re not always gonna listen to their kid. We don’t always listen to our parents. So, maybe there’s another expert in their life that they would listen to and say, “Okay, mom. I don’t want to argue about this, but could you do me a favor? Could you call your doctor? Could you just talk to your doctor about this?”
All right, let’s recap what we learned from Michelle. Teach your relative how to judge the information themselves instead of dismissing it outright. Dig a little when they bring up questionable information. They might be masking anxiety or fear about something. Explain what makes a credible source, and maybe direct them to one they can check consistently. Remind them to consider the intent of the speaker if the misleading information is coming from someone in a position of authority. And remember, the goal is to empower them to be more discerning about what news and information they consume and share.
Thanks so much for listening. How to Talk to Mamí and Papí About Anything is an original production and Lantigua Williams & Co. Micaela Rodríguez produced this episode. Cedric Wilson mixed it. We’d love to hear your stories of triumph and frustration, so send us a detailed voice memo to email@example.com. Hey, you might be on a future episode. Let’s connect on Twitter and Instagram, @talktomamipapi, and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts. Bye, everybody! Same place next week!
Lantigua-Williams, Juleyka, host. “Parents Might Be Spreading Fake News” How to Talk to Mamí & Papí About Anything, Lantigua Williams & Co., May 9, 2020. TalkToMamiPapi.com.