Today, V’s putting your information literacy skills to the test by taking a look at recent news that didn’t happen but received a lot of attention. Sometimes the truth doesn’t make for an interesting story, so people spice it up with lies in the hopes of getting clicks. And in these cases, it worked. V debunks rumors including New York City’s water being contaminated with polio, the IRS hiring for armed jobs, and Denmark banning kids from getting vaccinated. So, how do we spot false news and make sure we’re spreading facts? V asks Google Product Manager Nidhi Hebbar to weigh in on the issue. We’ll hear about what tools Google has launched to combat misinformation and how to identify lies early enough to flag for friends and family.
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Nidhi Hebbar, V Spehar
V Spehar 00:01
Hey friends, it’s Tuesday, August 23, 2022. Welcome to V INTERESTING, where we break down the viral and very interesting news you might have missed. I’m V SPEHAR. And on today’s show, we’re going to do something a little different. Today we’re going to take a look at what didn’t happen. Like how an IRS Special Agent job got misrepresented online. Is there polio in New York’s tapwater? Not so much. We’ll dig into the stories that were widely shared and totally debunked. And later, we’ll double down on our factfinding mission and chat with an expert at Google who is tasked with fighting something that sounds very sinister, data voids. All that more coming up on today’s V INTERESTING from Lemonada Media. Let’s be smart together. Okay, it’s time for the headlines. And remember, these are things that did not happen these are debunks first. Polio was found in the New York City wastewater, the Instagram post read Hey, remember that time there Adams told everyone to drink the New York City tap water? Well, they found polio in the New York City Water. For clarity, they did not. That post was liked 112,000 times and it was shared virally with one repost or adding under Biden we are now finding polio in the tap water. The original post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its newsfeed. But it was too late. The narrative was in the water too soon, too soon for jokes. So what actually happened? A patient in Rockland County, New York, a suburb outside the city tested positive for paralytic polio. Their doctor flagged the case for the New York Health Department who in turn asked the wastewater management folks to pull some samples to see if this was a widespread issue. The virus that causes polio was found in the New York City wastewater, that means that there was at least some spread amongst people who aren’t vaccinated. Key point there. So if you’re like me and started panicking and called your mom to like haul out the baby book to ensure you were in fact vaccinated for polio as a kid, you can just relax a little bit, okay, you probably [..] kids today are still required to it has generally been a lot and requirement to get the polio vaccine, especially if you went to school or daycare outside the home. Now, if you want to, you can get a polio booster you’re allowed to do that one time as an adult. So you just call your doctor and can set that up but again, they are not saying that is necessary. I digress. Wastewater is used water from toilets, sinks, showers and your dishwasher. It does not come in contact with drinking water. They are two completely separate systems. And monitoring poo is nothing new. Wastewater surveillance has been around since the 1940s. It is a standard public health practice internationally, as it provides fast, confidential and accurate ways to detect illness causing viruses, bacteria or exposures to environmental hazards. It helps health departments; the healthcare community and hospitals protect public health. And again, it was never in the drinking water. It was never in the freshwater you bathe, brush your teeth make your coffee with none of that. And if I might add, I lived in New York City for a whole decade. The tap water is like champagne in New York and according to the New York City Water Authority. Each day more than 1 billion gallons of fresh clean water is delivered to New York City from the pristine reservoirs of the Catskill Mountains you ever been to the Catskills? It’s gorgeous. New York City drinking water is renowned for its quality. It is one of the only free safe things you can do in New York. So enjoy it.
V Spehar 04:14
Crunching numbers and crushing skulls, the IRS is armed and dangerous. look as cool as that sounds. I don’t know it sounds kind of like a movie to me. It’s just not true. Built into the $740 billion inflation Reduction Act is $80 billion in funding for the IRS. But instead of reading the funding outline, which is widely available and written in common English, folks took to social media with their conspiracy theories. A Facebook post circulated saying the IRS is looking to fill 87,000 positions, requirements include working minimum 50 hours per week, which may include a regular hours they have to be on call 24/7. Including holidays and weekends and carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force if necessary. So some Twitter users saw that and wrote want to be one of the new 87,000 IRS agents. Are you willing to carry a firearm and use deadly force? This is not at all concerning. Look, worry, not my friends, while paying taxes can sometimes feel like armed robbery, a pencil pushing sharpshooter will not be showing up to audit your taxes. Now the IRS is looking to fill about 87,000 positions, but almost all of those jobs are administrative, you know, like the folks that make sure you get your tax return or who work in corporate tax departments, the folks that audit the wealthy and big corporations who have dodged taxes, knowing that there just hadn’t been the manpower to enforce collection and such, this staffing up would only just barely bring the department up to par to be functional, something that we haven’t seen since before 1994 when Newt Gingrich became the Speaker of the House, and the Republican Party decided that tax cuts and abolishing the IRS was the new party platform talking point. Throughout the 90s. Democrats and Republicans would work together to unanimously vote and make sweeping deep cuts to the IRS budget. And here’s kind of just someone who was able to sum this all up for us. Republican congressman from Pennsylvania James Dyer once said, The Agency faces a structural political problem. On one side are anti-tax Republicans, while on the other are Democrats who fear publicly supporting the tax man. Quote, this is an agency that doesn’t have any friends. There was an attempt to re-empower the IRS during the Obama years because collecting taxes is literally in the constitution. We need them to pay for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. But any gains Obama made were in turn wiped out by Trump’s administration. So what is up with the IRS and the guns, the IRS has always employed armed agents but on a very small scale, and of the 87,000 new jobs, only 300 of them will be armed to special agents that is less than point 0.1%. But why are they armed? Well, because of like organized crime and like criminal financial stuff, I don’t know think of them as like the law and order organized crime tax collector division, right? We can make that cool. I’ve watched that. Let’s take our misinformation tour abroad. Well, I mean, like kind of, the biggest spreaders of misinformation tend to manipulate American media to fit their agenda of the government is bad and trying to kill us. But sometimes they’ll cherry pick an article from a foreign newspaper and also try to claim how America is somehow uniquely bad and attacking its people. And that’s what happened with a headline. Denmark no longer requires kids under 18 to get the COVID vaccine. Facebookers were lighting up the feed with Denmark bans the vaccine for kids under 18 because it’s dangerous, which is not even close to true and was not what Denmark said at all. Around 81% of Denmark’s population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 62% have also received the booster according to the Danish Ministry of Health, they are considered widely to be one of the countries that best handled and contain the virus. They were also one of the first European nations to return to normal because their infection rate is so incredibly low, and the death rate is even more incredibly low. And since children and young people very rarely become seriously ill from the COVID-19 Omicron variant, those under the age of 18 will no longer be required to get the vaccine, required and banned are not the same thing. Because they are still giving the vaccine to kids if their parents want it. It’s like no big deal. They’re just saying, hey, we really like handled this COVID thing well, and now we don’t have to rely just on vaccines to keep our people safe. Denmark slogan is the happiest place on earth. It is always in the top places to live because of the care and kindness that Danish people show to each other. They even have a special word for that like cozy feeling when you’re together with the people you love. It’s […] that feeling that illuminates your soul. You guys give me […]
V Spehar 09:16
Giving me more […] is a Facebook post made on August 14 that claimed this […] cries like kid after lose his primary against Trump pic, which of course doesn’t sound anything like a Russian bots, am I right?. At the point that this was posted to Facebook. The election hadn’t even happened yet. And the video that facebooker added to the post was a Newsmax clip that didn’t even have Liz Cheney in it. So while that post was false information at the time, she did go on to lose her seat and then like since then has started to weave the story about where she might be going next. Cheney switched all of her websites and platforms over to be fundraising, claiming that she alone can beat Trump in the 2024 presidential election. And there’s been some folks on the left who were really effusive in their praise for her. But let me tell you, the idea that Liz Cheney is the bastion of progressive democracy that we need right now. And we’ll be switching teams to become a Democrat. Well, that might be the biggest lie we debunk today, my friends, she voted with Trump 93% of the time, there is nothing in her voting history to suggest that she could even be put up as the Democratic candidate. And there is even less of a chance that Republicans will get behind her. Her work and standing up for democracy and leading the January 6 Commission is commendable, and we are thankful to her for that. But that’s about the limit for how far left you could expect Liz Cheney to go. Okay, while we’re at it, none of these things are true either. 96% of US climate data is corrupted. That’s false. The inflation Reduction Act expanded free health insurance to Americans under 65. I wish but unfortunately, also false. Tulsi Gabbard Venmo is Nancy Pelosi $600.01 forcing the IRS to audit Pelosi is finances also false, but that one was fun. Amazon is running a promotion and giving away random packages for just $1 that is a scam. And finally, one of our favorites, a classic and heiress wishes to give you all of her family’s fortunes, she just needs you to prove that you trust her by sending your bank information and social security number. After that the funds will be yours and soon you will be wed, don’t fall for it. Don’t fall for it. All right, that was fun, right? A little housekeeping cleanup episode. Maybe we’ll do these more from time to time. If you liked it, just let me know. And with all the untrue stuff out there on the internet, we thought it would be a good time to learn more. In a moment, we’re going to talk with Google Product Manager Nidhi Hebbar, about misinformation and what Google is trying to do about it.
V Spehar 12:03
And we’re back. So when someone posts a claim or a news story, do you ever find yourself like getting into it with them? And they’re coming at you with like, where did you hear that from? Did you go to Google University? Did you do your own research and we’ve all seen that meme. That’s a source. I made it up. So while misinformation has always been an issue, the way we engage with it, and our awareness of the problem has only accelerated. So how can we become more media literate and spot the signs of fake news? Google recently partnered with the Poynter Institute; those are the folks behind PolitiFact. And I use them upfront to debunk all those nasty rumors at the beginning of the episode. And together, they studied the challenges of misinformation and how people fact check their search results online. You want the good news or the bad news first? Okay, the bad news is young people are coming across bad information, most of the time they’re online. But the good news is they can recognize it as misinformation and are even identifying it early enough to flag for their friends and family. So that’s good. Nidhi Hebbar is a product manager at Google, and is focused in part on improving information literacy by empowering people to evaluate things for themselves. And one way Google is trying to combat misinformation is by upgrading its search engine to tell you the source behind the results you’re seeing. Nidhi he’s here to tell me about other ways Google is arming online users with tools so they can make sure that they’re spreading facts. Now, Nidhi. Given that you have so much expertise in this field, what inspired you to find solutions for misinformation in the first place?
Nidhi Hebbar 13:35
Yeah, I think, you know, misinformation really is one of those big challenges that we’re facing as a society today. And for me, personally, I think what inspires me is, most of my background has been in education and an education technology. And from working with students and learning organizations around the world, it just became really clear to me how critical no pun intended critical thinking, actually is, for people’s ability to make sense of the world around them and to contribute to society. And so I feel really inspired to provide opportunities to empower people to evaluate information for themselves. And that’s really tied into the work that Google is doing here that I’m excited to share more with you on.
V Spehar 14:20
In your memory. When did online misinformation really become such a big problem?
Nidhi Hebbar 14:27
You know, I’m probably not old enough to have known really, when it became a big problem. I think it was kind of a thing everywhere. For a while. It just had different forms. And as the Internet came to be, and became a place where we exchange information, it just sort of exacerbated the problem. The research that we recently partnered with the Poynter Institute on kind of articulates how this problem has just become increasingly more top of mind for people across generations. And so while I think misinformation was kind of always a thing. I think the way that we engage with information and our awareness of the problem has certainly accelerated.
V Spehar 15:08
Do you have any of the compelling findings from that research project?
Nidhi Hebbar 15:12
Yeah, I’ve got a couple. The survey was meant to study the challenges of misinformation and how people fact check information online. So the survey included multiple generations and over 8500 respondents in multiple countries, so India, Japan, Nigeria, Germany, the UK, Brazil and the United States. And some of the interesting findings there were that more than half of our Gen Z respondents were worried about their friends and family being exposed to misinformation. And we also found that Gen Z’ers were twice as likely as older generations to use search engines to verify information. So that was particularly encouraging. One thing that also struck me across generations was that 62% of respondents think that they see false or misleading information at least weekly. And relatively few people feel confident that they can identify misinformation when they see it. For me, that was really important, because this, at least with the findings around Gen Z, you know, this is our next generation of leaders. And we know that Gen Z is digitally savvy, they’re looking to talk for solutions to their questions, and they really care about this problem. So to your question earlier, you know, that is really what inspires me to do this work.
V Spehar 16:30
Do you have any information on how quickly misinformation spreads from like, the first time that somebody says something?
Nidhi Hebbar 16:37
I think one of the things that I find so challenging about misinformation is just that it really is designed to spread. You know, a lot of misinformation is created in order to play on people’s emotions. Are there fears of a particular community that make people feel compelled to, to believe something quickly or to share? And I think that that’s what makes some of these tools to help you kind of pause and think about what information you’re reading are so important.
V Spehar 17:06
Yeah, it’s something that I find is that people, I’ll grant them the idea that they had good intentions, right? Like they, they may be really did believe this thing that they read, or this piece of information that they think that they’ve internalized and they can regurgitate back in a way that’s going to make sense, and they want everybody to know about it. But some of that comes from a lack of information literacy. And I know that there are some tools that you’ve worked on to try and help catch people up on how to recognize things as true and authoritative and up to date. Because something that might have been true 10 years ago, might not be true now, or we may have new information. Can you talk a little bit about the tools to help people with that information literacy gap?
Nidhi Hebbar 17:46
I think it helps to start kind of with what is information literacy even. And, you know, leaning on some of the definitions that like library associations provide which librarians have kind of been the head of ahead of this game for long before any of us were thinking about it. But they sort of describe information literacy as the ability to identify when information is needed, and also the ability to use and evaluate that information effectively. So we often think of I think the ladder as information literacy. And both are really critical components of that. And that means, for example, you know, when you’re reading a claim about whether eating raw carrots actually helps you lose weight, you might notice that you need more information about the source making that claim or decide to seek out additional perspectives. And so some of the tools that can help with that are making it easier to just practice the steps that information literacy experts wish we would all do, but are just not realistic for us to do on a regular basis. You know, we can’t spend 20 to 30 minutes every time we see a piece of information, evaluating it. And so what we try to do in this space is, is provide you with the tools to make that process easy to just check the source quickly. Get a sense for who is behind this information, what their perspective is, and then also seek out other perspectives on a particular topic.
V Spehar 19:10
I think that’s really important because we live in a society that sometimes accepts this response of like, well, I did my own research. So this is just my stance, and because it’s my opinion, I’m true. Should we be trusting our own research? I mean, how do we overcome that?
Nidhi Hebbar 19:25
I think, you know, I think the this is challenging, because people have a variety of definitions for what own research actually is. And I think this is one of the reasons why it’s so important for everyone to be information literate, so that you feel confident and empowered to see for yourself, you know, not only do you do your own research, but you also need to be able to evaluate whose perspectives and whose own research are you willing to trust. And we think that this is a really astute question, because we often say you know, you need to consider the context of the information that you’re consuming. But that context actually includes your own limitations around what you don’t know. And so I think, you know, there’s not a clear cut answer to this. But I think it’s just as important to assess whether a given source is trustworthy, as it is important to assess whether you have the skills to interpret information, or whether you kind of need to go look for a more expert or authoritative source for information.
V Spehar 20:27
Yeah, and I gotta be honest, sometimes it trips even me up, like, I’ll see an article in a medical journal online, and it looks very official, and I’m looking at the doctor, and then I’m googling the doctor. And I’m seeing that they’ve been published. And I just didn’t take maybe that one extra step to see if where they’ve published is a verified source. And that’s something you’re saying there’s a tool for now that could help you see if that source, even if it is tricking you into looking very legit, is actually legit.
Nidhi Hebbar 20:53
Yeah, I love that you gave that example. So on Google search today, there are three dots that show up next to every single result that you might see when you search for something. And you can click that and easily get a really quick description of who the source is behind that. You can also get more information and find out what other people are saying about that source, or potentially what other sources maybe if there’s news coverage, on that topic have to say about the topic as well. And we make that really easy to find. Also, when you’re browsing in the Google app, you can swipe up and see information about the source of any web page that you’re on.
V Spehar 21:28
Is that something that Google feels especially responsible to given the fact that they kind of like built this search engine that has become kind of what people consider the internet that now they have to help people best use it?
Nidhi Hebbar 21:42
I’d say two things on this. I think the first is that Google’s mission really is to enhance been right to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. And a critical part of that is making sure that that information that people access when they come to Google is not only relevant, but also reliable can and that’s really important to us what I mean by that is that we kind of design our ranking systems, fundamentally to provide that high quality information across a variety of topics. But then I think the other piece is that we know from research that people come to Google to evaluate information that they get everywhere. So whether they’re browsing or consuming information on social platforms, or messaging apps, or like you said, that dinner table conversation with their uncle, we know that they come to Google Search to then figure out if they can trust that information. And so I do think Google, we feel it’s our responsibility. And we’re very committed to building tools that help make sure that you not only get high quality information, but that you can also take the steps to evaluate it for yourself.
V Spehar 22:50
What are some tips that you have for folks who have found something that they want to share? And somebody’s gonna say to them? What’s your source? And they’re gonna say, Google, what should they be saying when they’re trying to get their point heard?
Nidhi Hebbar 23:02
Yeah, I think that, my hope is that the resources that Google provides that the high quality information can be used as sources for people, rather than having to say I Googled this, being able to show people what information is available, and also point them to the tools for them to do their own evaluation, I think can be really powerful. My hope is that as we provide access to high quality information, and these tools that we make it easier to have those conversations.
V Spehar 23:32
But there are some peak topics, there’s some really important topics like elections, or maybe public health, when information literacy becomes especially important. And are these places that Google is putting more effort into?
Nidhi Hebbar 23:45
Yeah, absolutely. I think that you touched on that piece, the around, knowing when information is needed. There’s two things I want to point out in this space. I think, certainly, there are peak times where these types of information literacy tools are most useful. You know, elections are a great one. The pandemic was and continues to be a big one. The, we think about how do we make these tools available to you in the right moments when you might need them most, but also make sure that they’re available to you, whenever you decide that something’s important for you to evaluate. The one thing I wanted to highlight there is that there’s something called data voids. So data voids are a concept that information literacy research has covered and it’s a thing that tend to provide a challenge for search engines, because it’s an information space where there isn’t a lot of information available on a particular topic. And it could be for a variety of reasons. One of the things that Google is doing in this space is content advisories to help you to help make you aware that you might be in one of those spaces. And so previously, Google launched content advisories around breaking events. So if there’s like a new news story, sometimes it takes time for reliable sources to write about that topic. And so we just let you know that it might make sense to come back later for more information. Another one that we announced last week is in a space. It’s a content advisories to let you know when we don’t have high confidence that the overall set of results on the page is high quality. And so we don’t stop you from looking at that information, you can easily scroll and read, there could be helpful individual results on the page. But we try to kind of show up in those moments when we think people might need some help to notice that you can take an extra step and check the source, for example, and we try to provide helpful tips in those moments to.
V Spehar 25:37
Nidhi, I feel like we could be here doing this all day. And I certainly have learned a lot and definitely feel a greater sense of responsibility to checking in to employing these tools to make sure that I continue to provide the best most up to date information. And like you said, it is about finding the best most up to date information. That’s how we fight some misinformation or even accidental misunderstandings online. I’m so grateful that you were here with me today. tell folks where they can find these tools and where they can find you.
Nidhi Hebbar 26:05
Thank you so much V for having me, this was a great conversation. I’m really excited for folks to learn more. If you want to try out some of the tools that we have available for you, you can always click the three dots on Google search. And we can share links in the show notes for folks to learn more about the suite of information literacy tools that Google has available.
V Spehar 26:25
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling more confident about identifying misinformation. And hopefully this discussion inspired you to put on your critical thinking that the next time you Google something. Remember, you are not alone in this, you can find helpful links on information literacy in the show’s description. So stick around now for good news when we get back it is time for my favorite part of the show.
V Spehar 27:01
Welcome back, friends, it is now time for good news. Only the best way to end any episode of course. Now for our first story, this one’s gonna shock you, but I think you’re gonna like it. Researchers found that gold could hold the key to treating inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. These conditions unfortunately have no cure. And main drug treatments can cause anemia and intestine problems. But researchers in China found that tiny gold particles can reduce inflammation in the intestine within just 24 hours. I guess those wastewater surveillance folks, but I get a pan, a bedpan for the gold. Get it? Oh my gosh, I’m we’re gonna have to get a comedian into here. I am not meant to tell jokes. I mean, how did they even figure this out? Were they just like chugging gold schlager and then the IBS kid was like, hey, I’m actually feeling better. You gotta love how research gets funded. And in other news, if you’re eating a lot of fast food, go ahead and grab some grapes. No, not the fermented kind. You gotta get the fresh cheese. New research suggests that snacking on grapes might combat the effects of consuming a junk food diet. I mean, it’s worth a try, right? They’re saying that eating grapes can help flush out the refined fats and sugars of processed foods, allegedly. I mean, again, it’s worth a try. I personally like those cotton candy grapes. Have you ever had those? And whatever happened to the seed grapes? I feel like I never see them anymore. Did we root those out? Oh my god, V You’re not funny, cringe. I don’t know. Maybe we should just get like a comedian co-hosts. Do you guys need some laughs, let me see what I could do. I’ll see who we have on the Rolodex. Again. Thank you guys so much for tuning in and spending this time with me. Oh, oh, wait, do you feel that there’s a chill in the air. And the pumpkin spice is about to be in season. It must be time for spooky season. Hey, you guys are gonna love Friday’s episode. We’ve got my favorite mortician Eileen Hollis in studio. She is going to help take the scary out of death and dying. And we may even get a few ghost stories. But first we want to know what is something death taught you that you wish other folks would learn from? Leave me a voicemail at 612-293-8550 Subscribe to Lemonada premium on Apple podcasts. Follow me at under the desk news on Instagram and TikTok and now YouTube as well. And don’t forget to get up those sweaters. It’s going to be sweater weather before you know it. Stay cozy my friends. I will see you on Friday.
V Spehar 29:34
V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.