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Democracy

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with an expert at spotting fake news.

Being able to tell truth from lies is more important than ever.

fake news, experts, social media, fact checking
Canva

It's getting harder and harder to tell.

True
Firefox

"Fake news" is more than just the phrase the president uses to brush aside stories he doesn't like. It's a real thing, and something we should all be on the lookout for.

Below is an image of Parkland student Emma González tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution that went viral in 2018, sending some corners of social media into a frenzy.



There was one problem, however: It was totally fake.

The actual photo came from a Teen Vogue video shoot featuring her and some of the other Parkland students. In the real clip, González is seen tearing up a paper shooting target.

fake news, Teen Vogue, gun rights, activism

Teen Vogue photo shoot goes viral.

linked image from snopes.com

The fact-check was swift, but a lot of damage was done, as the altered image continued making the rounds.

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with someone whose job it was to spot them every day.

At the time of this incident, managing editor Brooke Binkowski wrestled with the importance of truth and figuring out how to stop the spread of hoaxes every day for the highly trusted fact-checking website Snopes.

fact checking, fake news, urban legends, story, news topics

Snopes fact checks urban legends.

www.snopes.com

The site, launched in 1994, began as a collection of fact-checks on some of the internet's early urban legends. Wanted to find out whether or not that story about the killer with a hook for a hand was true? Snopes had you covered. Needed to know whether your favorite brand of bubble gum is filled with spider eggs? The answer was just one click away.

As the site evolved its taken on more serious topics, online hoaxes, and "fake news." Did Donald Trump wade into the waters of a flooded Texas city to save two cats from drowning after Hurricane Harvey? (No.) Did Barack Obama congratulate Vladimir Putin on his 2012 electoral victory? (Yes.)

Snopes is often cited alongside FactCheck.org and PolitiFact as some of the best, most accurate, and bias-free fact-checking websites in the world, even earning it a partnership with Facebook.

Binkowski spoke with Upworthy about how to deal with increasingly sophisticated hoaxes we all encounter online (and gave us a few behind-the-scenes secrets about how the people at Snopes do what they do best).

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why does the truth matter, and what harm is there in sharing fake stories?

The truth matters because without being able to agree on the most basic facts, there is no democracy. Democracy depends on an informed, educated populace in order to survive. To actively suppress curiosity or obscure facts is to actively suppress democratic norms.

When you share fake or misleading stories, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it if you were trying not to! We all fall for it. Some of it is extremely convincing.

I strongly believe that the onus should not be on the individual to sift through all the garbage to find good, vetted news on top of every other thing they have going on in their life, as I hear many suggest — that's why journalism exists. I think people are overall extremely smart and crave information, but without vetted and transparent information, they fall for conspiracy theorizing.

That's what propaganda and disinformation seize on. If you repeat that pattern across a country, it dramatically erodes these democratic norms. Plus, have you ever tried to talk to a really entrenched conspiracy theorist?

So I would be as mindful as you can about the sources of stories and try your best not to share disinformation — and if you do, I would try to be upfront about it and delete it so that it does not spread.

Right now is a crucial time to be mindful, even though I just said the onus shouldn't be on the individual. It shouldn't, but we simply don't have enough working journalists to go around right now, because our industry has been allowed to collapse in the name of executive profit.

Can you walk us through how Snopes fact-checks a story?

We don't have any one specific way that we fact-check a story — there's no real formula for doing so. A lot of what we do is so disappointing when I describe it to people, because it's not magic. It's "just" journalism.

I try to give my writers time and space to do the research that they need to do, although sometimes it's a little difficult when we have "conspiracizing" from all sides. So sometimes, one of us will have to head to the library to pull books or go over to the local university to look through papers on campus.

A lot of the time we do old-fashioned reporting. Our staff is all over the United States and they know their stuff, so I'll take advantage of that and send them out on the field sometimes. We also, of course, know the repeat fake-news and satire offenders, so that makes it easy, because we can save a lot of time just by noting that they have an all-purpose disclaimer buried somewhere on their site. Sometimes we do photo or video forensics and FOIA requests (not that we get a lot of those answered, hahaha).


We try to be as thorough and as transparent with our work as possible, which is why we have a source list at the bottom of each page and maybe describe our methodology in a bit more detail than we should — but that's how we all roll.

Which is also why, on a side note, I find the conspiracy theories about us a bit puzzling. We're really easy to track down online, we list all our sources, and we try to be as open as humanly possible without also being boring about our methodology.

And yet people still think we're part of a grand conspiracy. I'm still waiting for my check from George Soros/the Lizard People/the Clinton Foundation, though. It's been, like, 20 years!

...OK, if you're a conspiracy theorist reading that last sentence, that's a joke. I already got my checks.

No, no, I'm sorry. I just can't stop myself.

Photo via Teen Vogue, illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

What can regular, everyday people do to avoid hoaxes and "fake news?"

My best tip that I can possible give readers is this: Disinformation and propaganda classically take hold by using emotional appeals. That is why what Cambridge Analytica did should be viewed through that lens.

One of the more sinister things that I have read that they did, in my opinion (among other things I'm sure that no one yet knows), was track people who were highly susceptible to authoritarianism, then flood them with violent imagery that was invisible to everyone else on social media, so that they were always in a state of fear and emotional arousal and highly susceptible to an authoritarian message.

That's the type of person propaganda historically targets anyway — those who feel out of step with society and have strong tendencies toward authoritarianism — but now, groups like Cambridge Analytica are doing it faster and more surgically.

If you're reading, viewing, or listening to a story that's flooding you with high emotion, negative or positive — whether it's fear, rage, schadenfreude, amusement at how gullible everyone else is — check your sources. You are being played. Do a quick search for the story, see if it has been debunked at minimum, and/or look for other sources and perspectives.

One of the most noxious things about disinformation and propaganda is that both weave some truth into their lies, which makes the lies much, much stronger.

Something I like to say about political leanings is that the right assumes it has the moral upper hand and the left assumes it has the intellectual upper hand — both are tremendous weaknesses that are easy to exploit.

Don't let yourself be exploited. Be on guard. Don't assume other people are sheep and don't assume other people are morally bankrupt. Propaganda wants you to assume the worst about your fellow denizens; the people who push it out want the basic fabric of society destroyed.

It wants you hating your lovers, your neighbors, your family members, the guy at the store, the lady at the coffee shop. Propagandists want you distrusting each other, bickering, and unable to agree on the most basic facts — because then they can exploit those cracks further and consolidate power in the process.

Don't let yourself be taken in.

The basic take-aways for the average person? Get your news from trusted sources, confirm it with a second source, check your own confirmation biases, and get familiar with reverse image search tools.

This story originally appeared on 03.30.18

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

A map of the United States post land-ice melt.




Land ice: We got a lot of it.

Considering the two largest ice sheets on earth — the one on Antarctica and the one on Greenland — extend more than 6 million square miles combined ... yeah, we're talkin' a lot of ice.

But what if it was all just ... gone? Not like gone gone, but melted?


If all of earth's land ice melted, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

And that's putting it lightly.

This video by Business Insider Science (seen below) depicts exactly what our coastlines would look like if all the land ice melted. And spoiler alert: It isn't great.

Lots of European cities like, Brussels and Venice, would be basically underwater.

In Africa and the Middle East? Dakar, Accra, Jeddah — gone.

Millions of people in Asia, in cities like Mumbai, Beijing, and Tokyo, would be uprooted and have to move inland.

South America would say goodbye to cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

And in the U.S., we'd watch places like Houston, San Francisco, and New York City — not to mention the entire state of Florida — slowly disappear into the sea.

All GIFs via Business Insider Science/YouTube.

Business Insider based these visuals off National Geographic's estimation that sea levels will rise 216 feet (!) if all of earth's land ice melted into our oceans.

There's even a tool where you can take a detailed look at how your community could be affected by rising seas, for better or worse.

Although ... looking at these maps, it's hard to imagine "for better" is a likely outcome for many of us.

Much of America's most populated regions would be severely affected by rising sea levels, as you'll notice exploring the map, created by Alex Tingle using data provided by NASA.

Take, for instance, the West Coast. (Goodbye, San Fran!)

Or the East Coast. (See ya, Philly!)

And the Gulf Coast. (RIP, Bourbon Street!)

I bring up the topic not just for funsies, of course, but because the maps above are real possibilities.

How? Climate change.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels for energy and emit carbon into our atmosphere, the planet gets warmer and warmer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means melted ice.

A study published this past September by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany found that if we don't change our ways, there's definitely enough fossil fuel resources available for us to completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

Basically, the self-inflicted disaster you see above is certainly within the realm of possibility.

"This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come," said lead author of the study Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

If we want to stop this from happening," she says, "we need to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground."

The good news? Most of our coastlines are still intact! And they can stay that way, too — if we act now.

World leaders are finallystarting to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is — and you can help get the point across to them, too.

Check out Business Insider's video below:

This article originally appeared on 12.08.15

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

Woman asks employers for transparent salary ranges

Job hunting isn't something that most people enjoy, especially if they're trying to get out of a toxic work environment. When people are trying to move up the ladder, or simply want to be paid what they're worth. They relay on the salary ranges provided by companies to gauge what salary to request.

Clear salary ranges also allow people to know if the job is worth applying and interviewing for. If the budgeted range is well below what the candidate's current salary, then transparency around the salary gives people a chance to make an informed decision. Jess Goodwin, who, according to her Threads bio is "perpetually looking for work," shared her frustration on the app about companies not including their salary ranges on job listings.

The job seeker explains that she applied for a job without a salary listed against her better judgement because it's a remote position and sounds like fun. Since the application was simple, she applied. The next day she was reminded why she typically skips postings like that.


Goodwin quickly receives the forms for the next step in the process the following day. While looking over the form she sees the expected salary which was a whole $30k less than what she listed as her expected salary for the position.

"I genuinely don't understand the thinking here. Why bother to ask for an applicant's desired salary if you're going to disregard it? Why not include the salary in the job description to begin with if you're going to mention it in the next step in the process? Do you really want to sift through more applications than you need to? Do you think someone's just going to be like 'actually $30K isn't that big of a deal,'" Goodwin writes.

Post by @thejessgoodwin
View on Threads

In the end, the woman emails the company's HR department to decline moving forward in the process. A lot of other people agreed with Goodwin's frustration about the lack of transparency in job postings.

"That’s awful but typical corporate con artist behavior these days. They don’t even try to act with integrity. My favorite is when they post a salary range of $52,578 - $199,000," one person shares.

"If the pay isn’t listed in the job posting it’s because it’s so low no one would apply for the job if it was listed. I’ve got a great job that I love and pays me fairly now. But that’s the rule of thumb I’ve always used when looking for jobs. If the pay isn’t posted don’t waste your time," someone else contributes.

"I agree. Our HR dept never would provide the range on a posting. Some applicants stated their minimum (and yes often it was more that I made). When I narrowed applicants for interview, I would give them the salary range when setting up the interview. It doesn’t waste their or my time if their target salary isn’t in the range," a commenter writes.

The comments were overwhelmingly in favor of employers being more open about the salary range. Some people complained about not finding out the salary until the end of an interview which often ended with the presented salary being much lower than their current salary. Maybe employers will take note of Goodwin's request for transparency and update their policy to include salary transparency.

Family

Mom calls out teacher who gave her son a 'zero' grade for not providing class with supplies

Her viral video sparked a debate as to whether or not providing school supplies should be mandatory for parents.

@shanittanicole/TikTok

A zero grade for not providing school supplies?

The debate as to whether or not parents should supply classroom supplies is not new. But as prices continue to rise, parents are growing more baffled as to how they can be expected by teachers to provide all the various glue sticks, colored pencils, rulers and other various items the incoming students might need.

What’s even more perplexing, however, is penalizing the children of parents who won’t (or can’t) provide them.

This was the case for Shanitta Nicole, who discovered her son received a zero grade in his new school for not bringing school supplies for the entire classroom.

Nicole was especially surprised by this reaction since she had already gone through the effort of making sure her son had every supply he needed from the school’s list, which was slightly different than the one they previously had.

And yet, the 7th grade teacher informed her son that he was still expected to provide for the classroom, not just himself. And, thus, a zero grade, for failing the assignment, so to speak.


Even though Nicole thought the rule was “weird,” she went out and bought the bulk items, which included tissues, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, pencils, Expo markers, and red pens.

And yet, the next week—her son still has a zero. Concerned, Nicole emailed her son’s teacher.

“I’m like, ‘hey…my student has a 83 in the class and everything else in the class is 100s and 98s and he still has a zero for something called ‘classroom supplies.’” she said in a video.

“‘We bought the supplies anyways, but I don't feel like it's the parents' responsibility to supply your classroom. And I definitely don't think it's appropriate to assign a grade to students based off of whether or not they've supplied your class with supplies. That doesn't make any sense.’”

@shanittanicole Am I doing too much? #fyp #school ♬ original sound - Shanitta Nicolee 💖

And while Nicole’s email did get the teacher to reconcile the grade, there was no mention to her other concern regarding the responsibility for parents to provide the entire class with supplies.

“So, I emailed the principal because I just, I might be extra, but I just want to see what's going on. Why do I have to buy supplies for the classroom?” the frustrated mom concluded.

Nicole’s video quickly went viral on TikTok, and several weighed in to agree that the teacher’s actions were misguided.

“That is so unfair!! Especially for the kids whose parents CANT afford groceries let alone classroom supplies,” one user wrote.

Another added, “You are not wrong. It is 100% ok for [the teacher] to ask for supplies, but mandate it for a grade? Absolutely not.”

And this point is truly what Nicole took umbrage with, as she noted several times in the comments. It has less to do with being asked to help and more to do with her son’s grade depending on it.

In a follow-up video, Nicole shared that the school principal did end up reaching out, notifying her that while, yes, teachers are allowed to ask for donations, it should never be mandated.

@shanittanicole Replying to @yafavv._.dancer😍😘💞😍😍💞 Graded Supplies Update #fyp #school ♬ original sound - Shanitta Nicolee 💖

“What the teacher was trying to accomplish, but it definitely wasn't appropriate,” the principal told Nicole.

While the teacher might have not handled this situation in the best way, it goes without saying that this is a larger systemic issue—one that isn’t exactly fair to parents, teachers and students alike.

Most public school teachers spend a significant amount of their own money on classroom supplies, to an average of $673 per year, according to a recent survey of more than 1,100 educators by the Association of American Educators (AAE). That number only goes up for teachers in high poverty schools.

At the same time, according to a 2022 survey with Savings.com, the typical parent also spends nearly $600 on school supplies. Plus things like clothes, backpacks, haircuts etc.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s no use placing full responsibility or blame onto teachers or parents. Because either way, students get caught in the crossfire. This is clearly a universal burden that needs attention.


This article originally appeared on 10.5.23

Photo credit: Canva, @samkelly_world/Threads

The "Notice and Do" list is a great chore list alternative that teaches kids to be aware of what needs to be done.



Though motherhood has long involved the intangible, yet nonetheless taxing responsibilities of managing a household, we’ve only had the term “invisible labor” to actually define this experience for thirty some odd years.

And if the conversation of invisible labor is still fairly new in the world of adults, how can they teach kids to be cognizant of it?

Sam Kelly, therapist and mom of three, has a pretty cool solution to this, and it starts by tweaking the traditional chore list.


On her Threads account, Kelly explained that she has ongoing conversations about invisible labor with her 6, 10, and 12-year-old, where she teaches them that “that the very first step in anything getting done around the house (including chores) is NOTICING that something needs to get done and then doing it.”

It’s through these conversations that Kelly realized the chores charts that most parents use miss this “crucial step,” which only “defaults that emotional labor onto me, their mom/the woman, to carry the load of knowing what needs to get done and then doing the work of assigning tasks.”

So, instead of chores, Kelly’s family participates in an activity she calls their “Notice and Do’s.”

“I’m teaching my kids how to first notice what needs to be done around the house and then take the initiative to actually do it on their own,” she writes, with the end goal being for them to eventually participate in “shouldering the mental load (in age-appropriate ways)” without needing instructions from mom.

Post by @samkelly_world
View on Threads

Long term, Kelly hopes that her kids will not only be more aware of invisible labor that happens every day, but also “have developed the proactive, self-motivational skills to take responsibility for doing it themselves.”

In creating her “Notice and Do” lists, Kelly has also made sure to address—and dispel— inherent gender norms, in both teaching her daughter that it is not solely a woman’s job, and teaching her son to take an equal amount of responsibility.

“This might seem like a crazy fantasy pipe dream. I get it,” she writes. “But slowly, over time…it’s working.”

All in all, other adults seemed to love this approach.

“Those are all great executive functioning skills of planning, organization, perception, attention, working memory and initiation at work. Well done!👏🏾👏🏾,” one person wrote.

“I love this. It really TEACHES instead of just bossing them around. Goes a long way,” another added.”

chores for kids

“I love this. It really TEACHES instead of just bossing them around."

Photo credit: Canva

Kelly’s “Notice and Do” list obviously isn’t a fix-all, but the fact that it’s creating awareness around labor which so often goes unnoticed is such a game changer. Think about how different our society might be if this mindset skill was as commonly taught as the alphabet or time tables.

Thankfully, Kelly did make it easy to teach kids with a free guide, which you can check out here.

Popular

Paul Alexander spent over 70 years in an iron lung. What he was able to accomplish is amazing.

Paralyzed after a polio infection as a child, Paul Alexander was still able to visit the beach, fly on an airplane, and graduate from law school.

Wikipedia/GoFundMe

Paul Alexander lived an amazing life overcoming incredible adversity

It’s a sight we don’t normally see these days: A man lying prone in a big, metal tube with his head sticking out of one end. But it wasn’t so long ago that this sight was unfortunately much more common.

In the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people each year were infected by polio—a highly contagious virus that attacks nerves in the spinal cord and brainstem. Many people survived polio, but a small percentage of people who did were left permanently paralyzed from the virus, requiring support to help them breathe. This support, known as an “iron lung,” manually pulled oxygen in and out of a person’s lungs by changing the pressure inside the machine.


Paul Alexander was one of several thousand who were infected and paralyzed by polio in 1952. That year, a polio epidemic swept the United States, forcing businesses to close and polio wards in hospitals all over the country to fill up with sick children. When Paul caught polio in the summer of 1952, doctors urged his parents to let him rest and recover at home, since the hospital in his home suburb of Dallas, Texas was already overrun with polio patients.

Paul rested in bed for a few days with aching limbs and a fever. But his condition quickly got worse. Within a week, Paul could no longer speak or swallow, and his parents rushed him to the local hospital where the doctors performed an emergency procedure to help him breathe. Paul woke from the surgery three days later, and found himself unable to move and lying inside an iron lung in the polio ward, surrounded by rows of other paralyzed children.


@ironlungman Episode 1 of Convos with Paul! We will be responding to comments and questions about Paul’s life, his polio, and life in an iron lung! Please be positive 😊 #PaulAlexander #poliopaul #ironlung #conversationswithpaul ♬ Chopin Nocturne No. 2 Piano Mono - moshimo sound design


Paul struggled inside the polio ward for the next 18 months, bored and restless and needing to hold his breath when the nurses opened the iron lung to help him bathe. The doctors on the ward frequently told his parents that Paul was going to die.

But against all odds, Paul lived. And with help from a physical therapist, Paul was able to thrive—sometimes for small periods outside the iron lung.

The way Paul did this was to practice glossopharyngeal breathing (or as Paul called it, “frog breathing”), where he would trap air in his mouth and force it down his throat and into his lungs by flattening his tongue. This breathing technique, taught to him by his physical therapist, would allow Paul to leave the iron lung for increasing periods of time.

With help from his iron lung (and for small periods of time without it), Paul managed to live a full, happy, and sometimes record-breaking life. At 21, Paul became the first person in Dallas, Texas to graduate high school without attending class in person, owing his success to memorization rather than taking notes. After high school, Paul received a scholarship to Southern Methodist University and pursued his dream of becoming a trial lawyer and successfully represented clients in court.

Images of a younger and older Paul Alexander in his iron lungPaul Alexander lived an amazing life overcoming incredible adversityWikipedia/GoFundMe

Paul practiced law in North Texas for more than 30 years, using a modified wheelchair that held his body upright. During his career, Paul even represented members of the biker gang Hells Angels—and became so close with them he was named an honorary member.

Throughout his long life, Paul was also able to fly on a plane, visit the beach, adopt a dog, fall in love, and write a memoir using a plastic stick to tap out a draft on a keyboard. In recent years, Paul joined TikTok and became a viral sensation with more than 330,000 followers. In one of his first videos, Paul advocated for vaccination and warned against another polio epidemic.

Paul was reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 at the end of February and died on March 11th, 2024. He currently holds the Guiness World Record for longest survival inside an iron lung—71 years.

Polio thankfully no longer circulates in the United States, or in most of the world, thanks to vaccines. But Paul continues to serve as a reminder of the importance of vaccination—and the power of the human spirit.

““I’ve got some big dreams. I’m not going to accept from anybody their limitations,” he said in a 2022 interview with CNN. “My life is incredible.”