CoverIntroduction and Table of Media Literacy Activities for Key Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media Literacy1. Foundations of the United States Political SystemDemocracy in Social Media Policies and Community StandardsThe Internet as a Public Utility21st Century Women STEM InnovatorsMedia Coverage of the RoyalsRepresentations of Native Americans in Film, Local History Publications, and School Mascots2. The Development of United States GovernmentDeclarations of Independence on Social MediaMarketing and Regulating Self-Driving CarsRepresentations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the MediaPolitical Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American MusicalBill of Rights on Twitter3. Institutions of United States GovernmentHollywood Movies About the Branches of GovernmentWriting an Impeachment Press ReleaseMembers of Congress' Use of Social MediaPolitical Impacts of Public Opinion PollsWebsite Design for New Political Parties4. The Rights and Responsibilities of CitizensImmigration in the NewsPortrayals of Immigrants in Television and FilmCOVID-19 Information EvaluationWomen Political Leaders in the MediaOnline Messaging by Advocacy Organizations and Special Interest GroupsDigital Games for Civic EngagementSocial Media and the ElectionsMedia Spin in the Coverage of Political DebatesCelebrities' Influence on PoliticsPolitical Activism Through Social MediaMedia Recruitment of Public Sector WorkersImages of Teachers and TeachingRepresenting Trans IdentitiesMedia Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021Music as Protest ArtPACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media5. The Constitution, Amendments and Supreme Court DecisionsProhibition in the MediaThe Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social MediaCivil War News Stories and Recruitment AdvertisementsRepresentations of Gender and Race on CurrencyThe Equality Act on TwitterReading Supreme Court Dissents AloudTelevision Cameras in Courtrooms6. The Structure of State and Local GovernmentNative American Mascots and LogosA Constitution for the InternetMilitary Recruitment and the MediaYour Privacy on Social MediaPandemic Policy Information in the MediaGendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in PoliticsEnvironmental Campaigns Using Social MediaTrusted Messengers, the Media, and the PandemicOnline Campaigning for Political OfficeAdvertising the Lottery Online and In PrintLocal Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media LiteracyPress Freedom in the United States and the WorldObjectivity and the News from All SidesInvestigative Journalism and Social ChangeNews Photographs & Newspaper DesignHow Reporters' Report EventsRecommendation Algorithms on Social Media PlatformsFake News Investigation and EvaluationCritical Visual Analysis of Online and Print MediaMemes and TikToks as Political Cartoons

Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic

By the summer of 2021, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by people and by state governments had produced two starkly different Americas: One with high rates of vaccinations and low rates of infections; the other with low rates of vaccinations and high and rising rates of infections, especially from the new Delta Variant and its variant, Delta Plus.

While two-thirds of adults in west coast and northeastern states had been vaccinated by July 2021, in other locations, particularly in the south, less than half the population had received even one dose of the vaccine.

Tweet of President Biden and Olivia Rodrigo putting on sunglasses together in the oval office with description: Thanks for stopping by, Olivia, and for using your voice to urge young people to get vaccinated. If we all do our part and get the COVID-19 vaccine, we can defeat this virus once and for all. Let’s do this.
Tweet from @POTUS account

By August 2021, 99.2% of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths were among unvaccinated people. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated" (Andone & Holcombe, 2021, para. 2).

Vaccination for COVID-19 is a complex problem in U.S. democracy. Many people believe it is a personal choice whether or not to get vaccinated. While governments and businesses can issue vaccine mandates to protect public health and to establish safe workplaces for workers and customers, a mandate is not the same as forcing someone to be vaccinated. No government - local, state, or federal - can force a person to be vaccinated; the police cannot arrest someone who is not vaccinated and then make them get the vaccine.

Instead, businesses, governments, and organizations can prevent an unvaccinated individual from using their services or working for them. For example, an unvaccinated student cannot attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst or some 600 other colleges starting fall 2021. Similarly, an unvaccinated person may not be able to board a cruise ship or continue to work in a hospital. However, every organization issuing a vaccine mandate must allow for medical or religious exemptions.

Since the power of governments to compel vaccination is limited, public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the President, began emphasizing trusted messengers as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19 by increasing vaccinations among unvaccinated groups. A trusted media messenger is a person or organization that people respect, believe, and will follow its recommendations. In July, the 18-year-old actress and singer Olivia Rodrigo joined the President to urge young people (at the time only 42% of those 18 to 24 were fully vaccinated) to get their shots.

People do listen to someone they trust, including family members, friends, local community leaders, pastors or priests, celebrities, doctors, and even television or radio personalities. But there is no single source of trusted information about the virus and vaccinations whose advice most people will follow.

Who are your trusted messengers about the pandemic?

In this activity, you will examine the media messages of different individuals and organizations in your school and community to assess how they are seeking to influence people’s thinking and behaviors. Then, you will propose ways to deliver trusted messages to young people. 

Activity 1: Analyze Pandemic Media Messengers in Your Community

Activity 2: Propose Ways to Deliver Trusted Messages to Young People

“In the COVID-19 pandemic vaccine push, no one is speaking Gen Z’s language,” declared Nicholas Florko (2021). Nationwide, perhaps as many as 25% of young people ages 18 to 24 are vaccine reluctant. What media strategies might help them change their minds? 

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Contrast the responsibilities of government at the federal, state and local levels. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.7]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication. 
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8