Misinformed or Informed? Students Scramble for News amid COVID-19 Outbreak

High school students are spreading misinformation about COVID-19 on social media — with little to no guidance as to where they should get their news amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

More than half of teens across the country use social media or YouTube as their primary source of news, a 2019 study by Survey Monkey and Common Sense found.  

“They don’t really make an effort to go out into the world and educate themselves through official news sources,” junior Fatimah Kihulo said.  

Kihulo said that the school should give students more packets to bolster communication between parents and faculty. 

“There was a packet that was handed out about the Coronavirus,” Kihulo added. “I think we need to do a better job of updating the news they send to students.”  

In addition to the information handed out to students during their attendance period, junior Enoch Kim thinks that the school should create a website devoted to news about the virus. 

“If there was more awareness about the [current] information that’s going on and a solid website where students can be informed, I feel like that’d be great,” Kim said. 

AP Psychology teacher Ms. Miller said that she cites misinformation to rapid news updates on unreliable sources, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, when teenagers are quick to share posts they find on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. 

“I think part of it is that teenagers like to get stuff very quickly,” Ms. Miller said. “They don’t really like to check their sources and it’s not something that’s taught at school outside of some English classes, so you don’t really see science teachers and math teachers making them cite their sources.” 

Ms. Miller said that a solution to the misinformation about the pandemic is to replicate Respect for All Week at Francis Lewis, where each department discussed a topic about accepting different types of people.  The Science Department should do the same, Ms. Miller said, about COVID-19. 

“If science teachers — who are probably best equipped to teaching that — spent time doing a Q&A session on it, looking at data and looking at real articles,” Ms. Miller added, “I think it would do a really good job of showing students what they should be afraid of and what they shouldn’t be afraid of.” 

Dr. Marmor said that teaching students about COVID-19 is “premature,” however, pointing them to websites like the DOE, CDC and WHO.   

“I don’t think right now is really the best time for teachers who aren’t experts in this to be giving out very specific information,” Dr. Marmor added. “I would rather that you get your information through the official channels or official memos. When you’re here, I’d rather you focus on school and not worry about what’s going on outside because here we’re safe.” 

While students might be misinformed about the virus through unreliable online sources, no Asian students we interviewed experienced any racism except for senior Emily Chen when taking public transportation. 

“I think when I’ve been outside, a lot of people tend to avoid you,” Chen said. “On the subway, I would sit down and people would avoid sitting next to me, or across from me, but not directly next to me.”

Incidents like those reported by Chen are rising. A man on a subway disputed with and sprayed Febreze air freshener at an Asian passenger on March 6, according to a video recorded and posted on social media by another passenger

Dr. Marmor said that he will not tolerate any racism against Asian American students, specifically Chinese American students. Cases of said racism — which, at the time of this interview, was zero — should be reported to him, the deans or the assistant principals, according to Dr. Marmor. 

“Under no circumstances will any discriminatory or bullying behavior be tolerated by anyone in our school, towards the community, towards anyone else in our school community,” Dr. Marmor said in a message to faculty about updates, putting discrimination at the top of his agenda. “This is especially true under the current circumstances as virus-related bias incidents have been reported around the city lately.”

Additional reporting by Rosanne Wong, Rachel Kim and Emily Dinnanauth.