No, Eagles fans didn’t loudly boo Jill Biden, and other news literacy lessons


Here’s the latest installment of a regular feature I’ve been running for several years: lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project (NLP), which aims to teach students and the public how to sort fact from fiction in our digital and contentious age. There has never been a time in recent U.S. history when this skill has been as important, because of the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories on social and partisan media sites.

NLP was founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter at the Los Angeles Times, and it has become the leading provider of news literacy education in the country. You can learn more about the organization and its resources and programs here.

The material in this post comes from the Sift, the organization’s newsletter for educators, which has nearly 22,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, explores social media trends and issues, and includes discussion prompts and activities for the classroom. Get Smart About News, modeled on the Sift, is a free weekly newsletter for the public.

NLP has an e-learning platform, Checkology, that helps educators teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources, and know what to trust, what to dismiss and what to debunk.

It also gives them an appreciation of the importance of the First Amendment and a free press. Checkology, and all of the NLP’s resources and programs, are free. Since 2016, more than 42,000 educators and 375,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have registered to use the platform.

Here’s material from the Oct. 24 edition of the Sift:

1. The Fourth Estate is essential to democracy, but most Americans — about three-quarters — believe news organizations prioritize their financial interests above serving the public, according to a new Knight Foundation and Gallup study. Furthermore, Americans who believe democracy is under threat were recently polled by the New York Times and Siena College, and 84 percent of them blamed mainstream media as a major or minor threat to democracy. On a hopeful note for news outlets, 70 percent of millennials and 74 percent of Generation Z support subsidizing the news with government and private funds to ensure free access for all, and were more likely than older generations to have paid for access at some point.

Discuss: How do you feel about these poll results? Do you think people are fair and accurate in their assessment of news media? What news outlets do you turn to, and why do you trust or distrust those sources? What constitutes “mainstream media” and where have you heard or used that term before? What role does quality journalism play in a robust democracy?

“Democracy’s Watchdog” and “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

“A large portion of the Americans who will pay for news are rich” (Laura Hazard Owen, Nieman Lab).

“Americans’ Trust In Media Remains Near Record Low” (Megan Brenan, Gallup).

2. Election-related misinformation is spiking as the midterms approach. Snopes flagged three types of election falsehoods you should be on the lookout for: claims that there are more votes than registered voters, that votes for dead people are being cast and that some election results are an indication of sketchy behavior by voters or poll workers. There is no evidence to support any of these claims.

Note: The News Literacy Project also created a resource identifying three types of election misinformation. You’ll find our recent infographic “Three types of election rumors to avoid” (tambien en español) on NLP’s Election 2022 resource page.

“As midterms near, immigrants and voters of color being targeted with rampant misinformation” (Areeba Shah, Salon).

Use this think sheet to explore common trends in election misinformation referenced by Snopes and NLP.

3. Although TikTok banned political ads in 2019, a recent experiment found that doesn’t stop false election ads from being placed on the video-sharing platform. A watchdog group and researchers at New York University tried placing 20 political ads containing blatant misinformation on major social media sites — including TikTok, Facebook and Twitter — and found that TikTok performed the worst, approving 18 of the false ads for publication on its platform. About a quarter of American adults under 30 regularly tune in to TikTok to get the news, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Note: No false ads were actually published to any platform as part of the study.

“Behind TikTok’s boom: A legion of traumatized, $10-a-day content moderators” (Niamh McIntyre, Rosie Bradbury and Billy Perrigo, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism).

Resource: “Misinformation” (Checkology virtual classroom)

Misleading audio falsely shows NFL crowd booing Jill Biden

NO: Philadelphia Eagles fans did not chant anti-Biden expletives and boo in loud unison when Jill Biden appeared on the field before the start of an Oct. 16 game.

YES: The original audio for the video shows Jill Biden singing the Eagles fight song along with the crowd.

YES: A spokesperson for the NFL confirmed to Reuters that a video clip with the authentic audio was posted to its official social media accounts.

YES: Cellphone videos that appeared to have been shot by some fans in the crowd captured a few isolated pockets of boos aimed at Jill Biden.

NewsLit takeaway: Manipulated media is often created with the intent of skewing people’s view of reality. Adding audio of a booing crowd to a video clip of Jill Biden created the illusion that she — and, by extension, President Biden — are particularly disliked. Keep in mind that doctored media online not only contains false content, but also is often designed to manipulate users’ perceptions and beliefs.

No, Rep. Lauren Boebert didn’t shoot her neighbor’s dog

NO: Boebert did not shoot and kill her neighbor’s dog.

YES: A dog that had attacked and killed other animals in the area, including goats belonging to Boebert, was shot and killed on Boebert’s property by a different neighbor on Aug. 17, according to official police reports.

YES: The owner of the dog published an emotional Facebook post condemning Boebert for the killing, then later deleted it.

YES: Screenshots of the deleted post continue to circulate online as “evidence” that Boebert was responsible for the shooting.

NewsLit takeaway: An unverified claim can easily take on a life of its own, especially when it concerns a polarizing public figure. When a neighbor accused Boebert of killing her dog, it proved to be an irresistible story to her critics — likely because it affirmed their personal biases about Boebert, whose outspoken advocacy of gun rights has prompted controversy. By the time it was revealed that Boebert had nothing to do with this dog’s death, the viral falsehood had already outpaced the truth. While the dog’s owner may seem to be in a position to know the information she’s providing, she was also involved in the event. This highlights a key difference between user-generated content and standards-based news reporting: sourcing guidelines and processes of verification. Credible news reporting requires multiple, high-quality sources to confirm key details of events. This takes time, which is why viral falsehoods often spread faster than the truth. The importance of verifying even those things you think you know is captured in an old journalism adage: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot mandate vaccine requirements for children to attend school, but that didn’t stop false claims about covid-19 vaccines from being spread by conservative pundits.

• Researchers recently tracked banned Wikipedia editors in an attempt to understand how coordinated disinformation campaigns attempt to manipulate the global crowdsourced platform.

• Disinformation that begins on fringe social media platforms like Parler and Truth Social doesn’t stay in the margins— it spreads into mainstream platforms, analysts found.

• Iranian journalists risk jail time for doing their jobs, but they carry on at IranWire — a “scrappy digital news outlet” with an active network of citizen journalists — and break major stories, such as the police beating and recent death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. (For more, see “Citizen Watchdogs” on the Checkology virtual classroom.)

Natasha M. McKnight

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