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. 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, 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 two lessons from the Jan. 6 edition of the Sift, as provided by the News Literacy Project. The first is a “viral rumor rundown” about false allegations on social media that Democrats wanted the U.S. flag flown at half-mast after the targeted killing by U.S. forces of Iranian military mastermind Qasem Soleimani while he was visiting Iraq. The second is about a deceptively edited video clip of former vice president Joe Biden at a presidential campaign event that went viral.
Viral rumor rundown
NO: Democrats did not call for “flags to be flown at half-mast” to grieve the death of the Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani. YES: The Babylon Bee, a Christian conservative satire website, published a story making this claim, which was then widely shared and mistaken for a factual news story by many on social media.
Note: Satirical stories are not only commonly mistaken for actual news, their central claims also tend to circulate out of context:
Also note: Only flags flown in the middle of the flagpole on ships and at naval bases are said to fly at “half-mast.” All others are flown at “half-staff.”
NO: U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, did not say in a tweet that she is “ashamed … to be called an ‘American’ ” and that “the time for violence is now” after the U.S. military targeted and killed Qasem Soleimani. YES: Omar tweeted a strongly worded message opposing war with Iran. YES: A Twitter account posing as Fox News posted a doctored version of that tweet:
Note: Social media posts are extremely easy to manipulate and typically circulate as images (screenshots) along with the claim that the post has since been deleted. When you see a divisive or outrageous post, especially from a public official, be sure to check whether it is authentic.
Also note: Politwoops, a website run by ProPublica — an independent, nonprofit news organization — tracks and archives public officials’ deleted tweets. If you see a screenshot of a controversial tweet from a politician, take a moment to check the Politwoops archive.
Misleading Biden Clip
A deceptively edited video clip of former vice president Joe Biden at a presidential campaign event went viral last week. The 19-second clip takes the Democratic presidential candidate out of context to make it appear as though he characterized the origins of American culture in racist terms. In actuality, he was describing the “English jurisprudential” cultural influence on contemporary American attitudes about domestic violence.
Note: This viral incident serves as a good reminder of the power of “cheap fakes” — simple manipulations, such as deceptive edits and false context — to spread political misinformation online.
Discuss: How can people avoid falling for photos, videos and quotes presented out of context or in false contexts? What role do our emotions play when we encounter such pieces of misinformation?