Engaged Reading Digest: Viruses, Lies and Spammers

Even in lockdown, journalism still happens. But the narratives emerging are worrying ones.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Hello, folks. It's been a while since I did one of these. Like everyone else, I've been knocked for a loop by the rapid progress of Covid-19. Luckily, so far my family remains untouched by the novel coronavirus — but two local people I know are in hospital, and another is recovering.

The last three weeks have been frantic. I've been trying to reconfigure my face-to-face training courses to online format - which seems (so far) to be working - while seeking alternative revenue streams. And I'm doing that while home schooling my daughters for half a day every weekday.

Home schooling during Covid-19 lockdown

It's exhausting.

But this is our new normal, for now at least, so on we go. Here's some things I think you should be taking note of right now.

Tracking the coronavirus through social media data

I always emphasise to the Interhacktives that one way you can view social media is as a vast data set they can interrogate through their data journalism skills. This takes that idea about 15 steps further:

Social Media Posts and Online Searches Hold Vital Clues about Pandemic Spread
Such data offer valuable information and could help track the novel coronavirus—but they risk errors and raise privacy concerns

Exciting stuff.

The platforms tentatively step up

While my own financial situation is much more perilous than it was only a few weeks ago, many have it much worse. Facebook is doing something to support local media survive what could be an ad-collapse apocalypse.

However, as I've been helping local voluntary organisations with their web and social media presence, I can't help wondering if they could have more impact by finding ways of getting decent reach on locally-important posts without charging people for them right now.

Facebook Aims $100 Million at Media Hit by the Coronavirus
With grants and marketing spending, the social media giant hopes to support outlets doing essential local reporting but struggling with a drop in advertising.

Meanwhile, Twitter is finally starting to delete Tweets from major political figures that contain gross untruths:

Twitter Deleted Two Tweets From Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro For Spreading Coronavirus Misinformation
“What I have been hearing from people is that they want to work,” Bolsonaro said in one of the deleted videos.

Inevitably, that's going to put "if you can do it for Covid-19, why can't you do it for other issues?" back on the agenda.

Lying liars and the lies they lie

The polarisation of attitudes to science and expertise is having a disastrous effect on political discourse, at the one time when lives depend on swift, effective action guided by genuine experts. The US is proving to be patient zero for this problem:

Conservative Voices Are Pumping Out Coronavirus Misinformation on Twitter
Twitter has cracked down on world leaders and media figures—though, notably, not Trump—for promoting untested cures, but other, more nuanced conspiracy theories are still spreading.

And fact-checkers are fighting their own battle against viral spread:

Facebook’s Fact Checkers Fight Surge in Fake Coronavirus Claims
Contractors battle bogus assertions about canine vaccines and free baby formula; ‘We’ve maxxed out’


The US President's complete disregard for the truth has moved from a political horror show, to an existential threat to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. And the press is not rising to the challenge, argues James Fallows.

Repeating the Mistakes of 2016
Cable and broadcast outlets are covering Trump’s daily briefings as they did the rallies of days gone by.

The New York Times was taken to task last night over its "horse race" journalism where there is no race:

The whole thread is just brutal, especially when an NYT reporter tries to shut him up:

Thread by @gregggonsalves: @jmartNYT @maggieNYT Sorry Jonathan, I don’t care how important you think you are, how important you think the @NYTimes is as a newspaper, b…
Thread by @gregggonsalves: @jmartNYT @maggieNYT Sorry Jonathan, I don’t care how important you think you are, how important you think the @NY newspaper, but the political desk has been abysmal on this. I say this as someone who has worked on infectious d…

And finally

It's nice to see that the SEO link spammers are still hard at work…

Unsolicited Link Requests
I get very stupid link requests.

Not even a pandemic stops the SEO graft.

engaged reading digestcoronavirus pandemiclies

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.