Published On: Fri, Sep 15th, 2023

Online safety measures, altered DeSantis video and other news literacy lessons

Here’s the first 2023-2024 school year installment of a feature I’ve been running for several years: lessons from the nonprofit, nonpartisan News Literacy Project (NLP) that aim to teach students and the public how to sort fact from fiction in our digital — and contentious — age. With the spread of rumors, baseless accusations and conspiracy theories on social and partisan media sites, there has not been a time in recent U.S. history when this skill has been as important as it is now.

The material in this post comes from the Sift, the organization’s newsletter for educators, which has more than 10,000 readers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, looks at 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 a free e-learning platform, Checkology, that helps educators teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, seek reliable sources and know what to trust, what to dismiss and what to debunk. It also gives students 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 2017, more than 475,000 students have used the platform. The organization has worked with more than 60,000 educators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and more than 120 countries.

Here’s material from this week’s issue of the Sift:

Dig deeper: Don’t miss this classroom-ready resource.

1. Young people would like a say in online safety measures that adults create for them, with some student-led activist groups successfully lobbying federal and state lawmakers. Whether it’s a question of scaling back parental consent for teens to access social media platforms or discussions about adding guardrails to algorithms that target minors, young activists say they’d like to be “meaningful collaborators” in online safety debates.

Discuss: What is the best thing, and the worst thing, about social media? Should the government pass regulations to protect teens online? Should young people be included in deciding which, if any, regulations are passed? Why or why not?

Resource: “Introduction to Algorithms” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

“Judge blocks Arkansas law requiring parental OK for minors to create social media accounts” (Andrew DeMillo, the Associated Press).

Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to explore how young people can influence legislation on online safety.

2. A student-run newspaper in Chicago — which began five years ago as a pet project for a 10-year-old girl — has evolved into a hard-hitting publication that has sparked interest in local news online and in print. The young staff of the Kidler has covered a wide array of local issues, including politics, disparities in public schools, housing, bike lanes and climate change. The 15-year-old publisher’s goal? “To encourage more participation in the democratic process.”

Idea: Divide students into small groups and ask them to review the latest issue of the Kidler. What kind of stories does the paper publish? How does staying informed on local news encourage people to be civically involved? Ask students to brainstorm ideas for stories they would like to see covered in their communities, then help them pitch some ideas to a local news organization.

“Practicing Quality Journalism” (Checkology virtual classroom).

— Infographic: “Seven standards of quality journalism” (NLP’s Resource Library).

“Teens Tuning In” (Rick Reger, Medill Local News Initiative).

‘It Was Hard to Put Words to Something So Raw and So Recent’ (Natalie De Rosa, Nieman Reports).

3. Political ads with content generated or altered by artificial intelligence are allowed on YouTube and other Google products, but the tech company will soon require prominent disclaimers for those kinds of ads. There is pending federal legislation that would require such labels; in addition, the Federal Election Commission is exploring regulations on “deepfake” videos in political ads.

Discuss: Is it ethical to use AI-generated images and video in political ads? Should it be legal? What are the possible impacts of such ads? Will people be able to tell the difference between images and video that are AI-generated and those that are authentic? Should AI-generated political ads be regulated in some way by tech companies or the government? Why or why not?

Resource: “News literacy in the age of AI” (NLP’s AI page).

“TechScape: As the U.S. election campaign heats up, so could the market for misinformation” (Kari Paul, The Guardian).

“X to allow paid political ads, lifting Twitter’s earlier ban” (Sarah Perez, TechCrunch).

No, a crowd didn’t chant ‘We want Trump’ during DeSantis remarks

NO: This is not an authentic video of a crowd chanting “We want Trump” as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a prayer vigil for victims of an Aug. 26 shooting in Jacksonville, Fla.

YES: The original video shows DeSantis being booed and heckled during the Aug. 27 vigil. But the audio of “We want Trump” chants and the CNN chyron — including the text “DESANTIS HECKLED IN JACKSONVILLE” — were digitally added to the clip.

NewsLit takeaway: Altering video by adding unrelated audio of crowds booing, cheering or chanting has become a common practice among purveyors of disinformation. This can be an effective tactic, as it creates the appearance of public consensus. And because of the bandwagon effect, which is the tendency for people to follow the crowd, these manipulated videos can manipulate public opinion. Since these altered videos typically feature noise from an off-screen source, there aren’t always visual cues to help determine the footage’s authenticity. Remember, checking viral content against multiple sources is the best way to make sure you don’t get duped by disinformation. Searching for “Ron DeSantis” and “heckled” pulled up several news articles about this footage, all of which reported that the crowd was booing and interrupting DeSantis — but not cheering for former president Donald Trump.

No, the WHO didn’t call for mass vaccinations to combat climate change

NO: The World Health Organization did not call for mass vaccinations to help combat climate change.

YES: This rumor originated on the People’s Voice, a website with a long history of publishing falsehoods.

YES: In an Aug. 9 media briefing, WHO officials discussed the role of climate change in the spread of illnesses in places where those infections don’t usually occur and the use of vaccines to address that specific epidemiological problem.

NO: None of the WHO officials at the media briefing or elsewhere have suggested mass vaccine mandates.

NewsLit takeaway: Making sure a news item came from a credible source is a key step in avoiding being misinformed. For an unfamiliar website, do a quick web search to see whether reputable news outlets published anything about it. In this case, a quick search shows that “The People’s Voice” is merely a rebrand of NewsPunch, a notorious purveyor of conspiracy theories and other fabricated content.

• How do editors and reporters decide exactly how a headline should read? NPR’s public editor provides some answers to this question in an examination of this headline: “Top American cyclist Magnus White, 17, dies after being hit by a car.” One critical reader argued that the cyclist was hit by a driver, not a car — but editors had their reasons for this approach.

• Black newspapers have historically provided essential coverage of Black people and social justice issues too often missing in the mainstream press — and in the digital age, that history isn’t lost on the new Black press.

• Google is 25 years old and as dominant a search engine as ever, but will AI upend the company’s core services and platforms?

• AI technology played a major role in the firing of Gizmodo en Español staff. The Spanish-language news site will be replaced with AI translations of English articles — translations that lack the cultural knowledge and subtleties understood by human translators.

• Before a struggling small newspaper in Iowa was about to shut down, community members quickly stepped in to keep the outlet going, with a focus on local school news and events.

• K-12 students today were born after Sept. 11, 2001, so educators are teaching about the attacks in a more historical context — and addressing student questions inspired by conspiracy theories online.

• Repeated exposure to sensational misinformation online not only can cause falsehoods to seem true, but it also can reduce how unethical sharing misinformation feels to people, according to a new study.

• Drawing inspiration from the newly released New York Times game Connections, Nieman Lab created a journalism-themed quiz version of the game. (Want to show off a little? Share your results with us by replying to this email! 🙂)

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