By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer
Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, department chair of the journalism, public relations and new media department, recently published a white paper she coauthored titled “Covid-19, Free Speech, Hate Speech: Implications for Journalism Teaching” in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
Moody-Ramirez said writing the paper was her idea, inspired by the time she and her coauthors spent on a Twitter panel last year. She said they sponsored a Twitter chat, where they heard feedback from others about free speech and hate speech in the context of teaching journalism during COVID-19.
From the response in the Twitter chat, Ramirez said they decided to write the paper.
Ramirez said the COVID-19 pandemic is the first time social media platforms have worked together to stop the spread of misinformation. She said she is not sure if this will continue outside of misinformation on COVID-19.
“That kind of makes people nervous because when you have these news groups coming together to take down information, then people become worried if they think that it might infringe on free speech,” Ramirez said. “I think that they were okay with it here because it was … dealing with something that could kill people. We’re dealing with the pandemic, but when you’re dealing with everyday issues, you become a little leery with the idea of news outlets working together to take down information.”
Ramirez said they also discussed the new age of interviews in journalism.
“As a journalism educator, I’ve always told you that you need to talk to people in person, you shouldn’t use email, but all of a sudden we started telling students, ‘It’s okay to use email,’” Ramirez said. “So that was a huge change.”
Ramirez said Zoom interviews will continue to be used after the pandemic because it is a good way to reach people from around the world.
“That’s actually been advantageous, so I think that’s something that we will definitely continue,” Ramirez said. “Many anchors have been able to set up desks in their homes. So, and I’ve actually talked to a few of them and some say … even after the pandemic is over, they will probably continue to report from their homes because they see that it is not only convenient, but it doesn’t really take away from the profession. So I think some of this will continue, but then, there is a downside. People miss that human interaction. They miss going into the office and being around colleagues.”
Anastasia Kononova, one of the coauthors of the white paper and assistant professor in the department of advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, said via email that the pandemic has been difficult to report on because of the constantly changing nature of data as scientists learn more about the novel disease.
Kononova said they also discussed the inequality of deaths and rates of contracting COVID-19 in minority communities.
“When minoritized groups are affected by a health crisis disproportionally, it can tell us a lot about structural inequalities and inequities that are present within the economic and healthcare systems,” Kononova said. “Many BIPOC populations are known to be at a lower socioeconomic status, compared to the dominant racial group. Lower socioeconomic status means lower incomes and lower access to education that could guarantee better jobs. These populations were also greatly affected by the unemployment that rose during the pandemic. Furthermore, many racially/ethnically minoritized groups have lower access to healthcare (availability or physicians, health insurance, quality care), are more likely to be mistreated because of racial bias and have lower trust in the healthcare system due to the history of medical mistreatment of people of color.”
Ramirez also said they discussed the huge social justice movement that came after George Floyd was killed. She said based on her research, people were very active on social media at the time, and that contributed to the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“People, they were sitting still,” Ramirez said. “We were able to focus on what was going on. We were listening in, looking at reporting, we were watching the news, we were paying attention to social media. That made a huge difference. Normally, we have been going on with our everyday life but have not paid as much attention to it. So I think that played a huge difference in that, and that’s why it kind of peaked at that time … I definitely attribute that to the pandemic and people being at home and just being able to pay more attention to it.”