Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project aims to teach students how to distinguish between what’s real and fake in the age of digital communication and a president who routinely denounces real news as “fake.”
Now the leading provider of news literacy education, it creates digital curriculums and other resources and works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. And, just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.
The following material comes from the project’s free weekly newsletter called the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which publishes weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.
Here are new lessons from the Dec. 2 edition of the Sift, as provided by the News Literacy Project:
More measles misinformation
A measles outbreak in Samoa has killed 53 people (48 of them under 4 years of age) as of Dec. 2, and thousands more have been infected. Before the outbreak, only 31 percent of the population had been vaccinated against measles, according to the World Health Organization — a significant decline from previous years, largely because of widespread distrust of vaccine safety.
In July 2018, two infants died after two nurses incorrectly administered the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine by mixing it with an expired muscle relaxant instead of water. Following the incident, Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccination advocacy group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., published several Facebook posts questioning the safety of the vaccine; however, it never provided information about the actual reason for the infants’ deaths. (The nurses pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to five years in prison.)
Note: Kennedy visited Samoa in June and, apparently by chance, met up with Taylor Winterstein, an Australian anti-vaccination activist who was staying at the same resort. Winterstein was organizing an anti-vaccination workshop in Samoa as part of an international tour, but the event was canceled after Samoan health officials objected.
Discuss: Why is misinformation about vaccines so persistent? Why do false claims about vaccine safety continue to spread despite being disproved? Should people be allowed to make up their own minds about whether to vaccinate their children? Can one person’s decision not to vaccinate their children affect the health and safety of others?
Idea: Use the Samoan measles outbreak as an opportunity for student inquiry into vaccine misinformation, perhaps culminating in a problem-based learning assignment asking students to come up with an innovative solution to combat it.
Banned on TikTok
The video-sharing platform TikTok blocked a New Jersey teen from accessing the service on her phone last week after a makeup tutorial she posted — in which she encouraged her viewers to “spread awareness” about the mass detention of minority Muslims in China — went viral. In addition, the video itself was removed from the platform for 50 minutes.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, says that 17-year-old Feroza Aziz was blocked on Nov. 25 because her phone was associated with an earlier account that was permanently banned in mid-November for posting a video that contained an image of Osama bin Laden (TikTok’s policies prohibit posting “terrorist imagery”). Her access to the platform was restored two days later, following reports about the situation in news organizations around the world.
TikTok said the ban on her phone was part of “scheduled platform-wide enforcement” of policies preventing devices associated with banned accounts from accessing the service; Aziz, who describes herself on Twitter as a “human rights activist,” doesn’t believe this explanation and says the video that included the image of bin Laden was a satirical one about dating. TikTok also said the temporary removal of the viral video in which Aziz discussed Chinese detention camps was the result of “human moderation error.” The company has come under scrutiny in recent months after repeated allegations that it censors videos that conflict with Chinese government interests.
Discuss: Do you believe TikTok’s explanations about the actions taken against Aziz?
Idea: Have groups of students research subjects that are censored in China, then search TikTok for videos on those subjects. For example, students might see how much content is on TikTok about the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, the Taiwan independence movement or the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Another idea: Challenge students to research several topics that have been censored by the Chinese government, then create TikTok videos about those subjects and post them to a new account (for example, a class account using a school-owned device). Then monitor the status of that new account to see if any action is taken against it.