When it comes to our health, the truth matters. Yet searching for health information online can lead you down an internet wormhole that’ll have you asking, what’s fact and what’s fiction? And then there’s social media, with plenty of 21st-century snake oil from Instagram and TikTok influencers, as well as politicians with an agenda.
Indeed, misinformation and disinformation have become an insidious threat to democracy and the Black community in recent years. The internet and social media have enabled the rapid spread of lies, conspiracy theories, and propaganda aimed at manipulating public opinion and sowing confusion, fear, and distrust. Potentially harmful health information is always one click away.
That’s why when Word In Black health reporter Anissa Durham said she wanted to report on this issue, I gave her an immediate green light. As journalists, our mission is to cut through the chaos and provide clarity. And in her series, Anissa interviewed experts and thought leaders to provide context and analysis of misinformation trends and put human stories at the heart of her reporting. How are Black individuals and families affected when misinformation campaigns achieve virality? What does it look like on the ground when communities are polarized by lies?
I know first-hand what it’s like to sift through information and be unsure if it’s true or false.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer I’d never even heard of. I was wrapping my head around how young I was to be diagnosed and how much worse the survival rates are for Black women. Then, well-meaning acquaintances bombarded me with misinformation. They sent me articles they found online telling me not to undergo chemotherapy. Because, according to this disinformation, chemo and cancer are just money-making scams from Big Pharma — and the government was out to put TRACKERS into Black folks’ bodies.
Folks said I shouldn’t do medical treatments to cure cancer because of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. You probably heard the same rationale for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 — never mind the fact that the experiment was doctors deliberately withholding treatment from Black men.
Examples like this are why it was so important that Anissa explored the sources spreading misinformation and disinformation — and broke down what those words even mean. She explains the tactics used to manipulate us, and the consequences for our community when medical disinformation goes unchecked. But just as importantly, her reporting equips you as the reader with the tools for emancipation from deception:
|How to Find Factual Health Sources: Anissa gathered guidance on identifying accuracy and expertise when searching for medical advice online.|
|COVID-19 Changed How We View Health Misinformation: Anissa spoke to physicians and health experts on the front lines who worked to provide accurate health information with the sea of COVID-19 misinformation on social media. An overarching theme: Black folks saved themselves.|
|Fact or Fiction: Social Media Health Disinformation: Anissa looked at the racist roots of conspiracy theories and how those ideas quickly circulated on social media. And how disinformation has seeped its way into the mistrust of vaccines.|
|Black Women and Their Power to Decide: Anissa explored how a lack of sexual health education about male and female reproduction has fueled political agendas to spread reproductive health disinformation.|
|Gen Z and Media Literacy, ‘It’s Sexy to be Smart’: Anissa, as a Gen Z herself, wanted to highlight Gen Z and their fight for media literacy at the center of her final reported story. She dives deeper into the responsibility of reporters, why journalism needs younger voices, and how Gen Z can navigate the overload of information online.|
By exploring this critical issue from all angles, Word In Black works to provide the Black community with the awareness needed to recognize mis/disinformation, reject malicious falsehoods, and make informed decisions. We take our commitment to inform and educate our community seriously. With transparency in mind, I’ll explain our editing and fact-checking process.
At Word In Black, our reporters take primary responsibility for reporting, writing, and fact-checking their stories. Prior to the publication of any story, reporters review facts and edits with each other first. As the managing director, I go through an additional editing process to make sure each story is up to par for our community.
If Anissa’s series helps us stand stronger against those who would deceive us for their own gain, we have achieved our mission. When we don’t vet information, we cede control of our health and destinies. Instead, you can investigate the truth and share facts that uplift us all. The choice is yours.