August 5, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 16: Students at dilapidated schools face added risks as schools reopen, plus an ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 misinformation is spreading broadly across Twitter

As the month of August begins, schools across the country continue to debate how to make education safe for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. For low-income students, their families, and their teachers, the risks are even greater due the age and condition of their school facilities, says Hardy Murphy, a professor of education at Indiana University. A former school superintendent, Murphy has seen the inequities experienced by some of the country’s most vulnerable students and says he fears that schools attended by low-income students of color could become epicenters of a second wave of the pandemic. Students attending aging, inadequate schools isn’t a new problem, Murphy says– research has shown that schools most in need of repair are in cities with a minority enrollment of more than 50% and more than 70% of the students classified as poor, while per-student spending on repairs and construction remains 30% lower in high-poverty districts. And the quality of school facilities has clear impact upon the health and learning of students -- for example, poor building conditions have been associated with higher student absences. But now, many school districts are facing pressure to reopen despite the inadequate state of their facilities to protect the health of students and teachers. Murphy says the dilemma that returning to school poses for lower-income parents and their children is another example of inequitable educational opportunities for students of color and that pressuring schools in dire need of maintenance to reopen, especially during a pandemic, is simply not in the best interests of students, teachers, and their families.

In other news, researchers at Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media are addressing a different kind of viral surge – an “infodemic” of misinformation about COVID-19 spreading broadly across Twitter. In a recent study, the IU researchers looked at the prevalence of what they identify as “low credibility” information on Twitter, such as the claim that the COVID-19 pandemic originated from a weaponized virus. The researchers found that the volume of tweets linking to low-credibility information is huge -- comparable to the combined volume of tweets from the New York Times newspaper and the Centers for Disease Control, which is an official source of health information related to the outbreak. Using a tool they created called BotometerLite [NOTE: pronounced Bot (as in robot)-o (long o)-meter], the IU researchers found that about 20-30 percent of the low-credibility information was shared by automated bot accounts, with some of those accounts appearing to push out the same low-credibility information in a coordinated fashion. The rest of the misinformation appears to be shared by humans. The research suggests that with millions of us staying at home watching our social media feeds, the flow of misinformation is something we all need to pay attention to as a matter of public health and safety.