The Jack Black "Mis-Informant" Video Campaign: Can It Counter False Rumors about Health Care?

Research indicates that unique among major news outlets, Fox News viewing is significantly related to belief in false rumors and misinformation, especially for conservative viewers predisposed to accept these claims. Examples include the persistent post-invasion belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the belief today that the proposed NYC mosque has ties to terrorist organizations.

Progressive organizations, Democratic leaders, and academics have debated the best way to counter these false beliefs.  Research, unfortunately, shows that attempting to engage audiences predisposed to accept these claims by providing factually correct information can actually backfire.  On the topic of weapons of mass destruction, when researchers provided conservatives fact-based refutations (citing a post-invasion report concluding that Iraq had no such weapons), the refutation actually strengthened belief in the original misinformation.

But what about comedy and satire?  Researchers have been tracking the growing influence of political parody, as captured in the multiple impacts for The Daily Show and similar "fake news" programming. Can parody be an effective antidote to false beliefs and the spread of misinformation?

The Jack Black "Mis-Informant" Campaign: Who Does It Impact? What is the Goal?

This week, the progressive organization Health Care for America Now has launched the Stop Spewman: Stop the Lies campaign featuring comedic actor Jack Black in a viral video series playing Nathan Spewman "The Mis-Informant."  Spewman infiltrates elementary schools to spread Fox News-style false rumors about health care, including that "Obama care" takes choices away from doctors and that Obama is setting up death panels to kill Grandma.

In the second video in the series, Black's influence turns an 8 year old girl into a youthful Glenn Beck, who sends her teacher running from the classroom after calling her a communist.  You can watch the Hollywood style videos below.

But what impacts are the videos likely to have? Who are they likely to influence and with what outcomes?

  • First, it's unlikely that the videos will influence conservatives or even independents who lean Republican.  These segments are unlikely to see the videos and if they did, are likely to reject the message.
  • Second, where impact is likely to occur are among young people who lean liberal but who have not been following the health care debate closely, may have heard some information about various claims, and remain either disinterested or ambivalent. The Jack Black videos are likely to gain their attention and be influential.  The videos may also have spill-over effects to the mid-term elections, crystallizing among younger voters a sense of both emotional excitement and greater perceived relevance, similar to the feelings of engagement experienced in 2008.
  • Third, the Jack Black videos are also likely a base mobilizer among older liberal voters.  Featured prominently at The Huffington Post, through humor, the videos trigger both anger but also positive emotions and a sense of hope that progressives are effectively fighting back against the perceived juggernaut of conservative media. 
  • Importantly, the videos end by directing viewers to the Stop Spewman web site, where upon entering the site, visitors are asked for their email and cell phone numbers to receive texts.  The next window immediately opens asking visitors for donations to the campaign and the first text messages satirically ask recipients if they would like to become "Professional Mis-informants" and if they would like to help spread local misinformation.

    See also:

    Ohio State Study: Fox News Contributes to Belief in False Rumors about NYC Mosque

    The Rally to Restore Sanity: A Growing Influence for Political Parody?

    What Viewers Learn about Politics from The Daily Show

    Researcher Examines Daily Show's Impact on Political Culture

    Follow Age of Engagement on Twitter.

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