Last summer, solidarity became a national buzzword. Thousands of people declared and demanded solidarity against racism in the wake of police murdering George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Some news organizations swiftly moved beyond the statement by implementing and amplifying solidarity reporting: the practice of going directly to marginalized communities to inform accurate coverage instead of solely relying on authorities and elites to tell the story. But many news outlets did not go this route, and remain caught between a desire to appear neutrally “balanced” and the growing understanding that mistaking balance for accuracy can promote misinformation with grave repercussions.


Spoiler warning: WandaVision, season 1, episodes 1–6

Millions of people have lost someone they love to covid-19 in the past year, and millions more have lost someone they love to causes that don’t make headlines. …

Anita Varma, PhD is the assistant director of Journalism & Media Ethics as well as Social Sector Ethics. Views are her own.

In these unprecedented times, déjà vu still hits hard: birtherism against a rare candidate of color on a presidential ticket, “alternative facts” from Kellyanne Conway, and horse race coverage that suggests some elections are decided before they’ve even begun.

After the 2016 presidential election, many news organizations across the country offered unusual reflections for an institution that often prefers to position itself as documenting events rather than affecting them. Convinced that the Republican Party’s candidate for president would…

“We stand in solidarity with Black communities. Black Lives Matter.”

Organizations, businesses, and groups across the United States sent this statement to millions of people via social media feeds and e-mail lists in early June 2020, in the wake of widespread protests for racial justice. Stating solidarity, however, doesn’t amount to much on its own.

Solidarity is a commitment to social justice that translates into collective action. This means statements need to be understood as distinct from statements attached to action. In the absence of action, declaring solidarity becomes a platitude for public relations. …

How journalists can better humanize death tolls, coronavirus cases, and unemployment rates

Anita Varma, PhD is the assistant director of Journalism & Media Ethics as well as Social Sector Ethics. Views are her own.

Each morning, a new set of numbers awaits in the news: the number of documented cases of coronavirus (by country, by state, and by county), the number of hospitalized cases, the number of intensive care cases, and the number of people who have died from the virus. Then comes the latest unemployment figures, along with projections about how many more people are likely to lose their livelihoods and their lives in coming weeks.

Quantifying the scope and consequences…

Two alternative questions to “Should Facebook allow politicians to lie in ads?”

Anita Varma is the assistant director of Journalism and Media Ethics, as well as Social Sector Ethics. Views are her own.

Debates over whether tech companies should fact-check political ads or prohibit them altogether have continued with a rising pitch since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University in October where he announced that the company would not fact-check political ads, followed by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that Twitter would no longer permit political ads. …

Sanitizing digital content by fetishizing information will not remedy the root issue at hand

Anita Varma is the program manager for Journalism & Media Ethics as well as Business, Leadership, and Social Sector Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

Governments around the world have proposed urgent regulations to curb the spread of disinformation (also termed “fake news”) online. In response, freedom of expression advocates have recoiled at the notion of government officials positioning themselves as arbiters of truth. Yet efforts outside of state regulation have also done little to put an end to disinformation.

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and collective action in response have filled me with pain and pride. Watching protestors flood the Hart Senate Office Building atrium on Capitol Hill, seeing thousands of sexual assault survivors and allies walk out at coordinated times, and receiving petition after petition to sign to indicate to senators that their constituents are awake, engaged, and furious made me, for the first time since 2016, believe that civic engagement is truly alive and well. …

Anita Varma and Tanja Aitamurto

Over Memorial Day weekend, uproar arose about the US federal government not knowing the whereabouts of 1,475 immigrant children. An opinion column in azcentral, affiliated with USA Today, titled “The feds lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children” sparked outrage from activists, citizens, celebrities, and other notable public figures across social media, many of whom reshared the article on social media and voiced dismay that “this is not what America stands for.”

By Sunday, counter-narratives and competing perspectives began to arise: some contended that America has a long history of separating immigrant families, and…

Anita Varma

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