The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘News and information chaos’ grows — and other news literacy lessons

(News Literacy Project)
6 min

Here’s the latest installment of a weekly feature I’ve been running for some time on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students and the public how to sort fact from fiction in our digital and contentious age. There hasn’t been a time in recent U.S. history when this skill has been as important due to social and partisan media’s ability to spread rumors and lies.

The News Literacy Project 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. 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 more than 23,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, discusses 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.

The News Literacy Project’s browser-based e-learning platform, Checkology, 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 NLP’s resources and programs, are free. Since 2016, more than 37,000 educators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 3,000 educators and more than 125,000 students have actively used Checkology.

Here’s material from the May 9 edition of the Sift:

Top picks

1. Global polarization and rising political and social tensions are being exacerbated by the “news and information chaos” of online disinformation and propaganda, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and findings from its new press freedom ranking of 180 countries and territories.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Index classified the situation for journalism as “very bad” in a record 28 countries. Iran (178), Eritrea (179) and North Korea (180) ranked as the worst countries for press freedom, while Norway (1), Denmark (2) and Sweden (3) continue to be “a democratic model where freedom of expression flourishes,” RSF said in its overview of the annual ranking.

Divisions are deepening in democracies around the world — including the United States (42) — driven in part by media polarization as well as propaganda orchestrated by autocratic regimes, RSF noted. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “reflects this process, as the physical conflict was preceded by a propaganda war.”


Idea: Invite a journalist from NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom directory to discuss press freedoms and share experiences related to the issue with students.

Resource: “Press Freedoms Around the World” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).

Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to further explore RSF’s new press freedom ranking and examine the effects of “news and information chaos.”

2. Politico’s bombshell May 2 report containing a leaked draft of an opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade sent partisan shock waves across the country. News coverage of the report’s fallout quickly prompted a debate over whether newsrooms should focus on the possible impact of the draft ruling, or the leak itself. Politico’s reporting also raised important questions about the journalistic ethics of publishing the draft — several of which, Poynter’s Kelly McBride argues, remain unanswered, including a detailed explanation of why Politico was “so confident the document is real and how they made the decision to publish it.”


Discuss: When should news organizations publish confidential documents that have been leaked? How do news organizations verify the authenticity of leaked materials? How should they explain this process to the public (especially when their source needs to remain anonymous)?

Resource: “Chasing scoops and verifying raw information” (NLP’s News Goggles activity with classroom-ready slides).

Viral rumor rundown

No, home pregnancy tests don’t include a “Plan B” pill

NO: Home pregnancy test kits do not contain a secret “Plan B” emergency contraceptive pill inside.

YES: Home pregnancy test kits include a desiccant tablet that absorbs moisture to keep products dry but, manufacturers warn, should not be ingested.

NewsLit takeaway: Videos that test “amazing” tricks and “life hacks” are popular, but often don’t tell the whole story. While some “life hack” tests are benign, amateur claims about health and medical issues should always be approached with extreme skepticism — and verified with trusted health authorities.

The BBC did not report that Poland is sending troops to Ukraine

NO: The BBC did not report that Poland’s top general ordered the country’s army to prepare for an invasion of Ukraine, as this video suggests.

YES: This is a doctored video that has been digitally altered to impersonate BBC branding.

NewsLit takeaway: Altering digital images and video — or creating impostor social media accounts — to fabricate the appearance of standards-based news reporting is a common practice of satirists and bad actors online. In fact, trolls and propagandists often steal these kinds of satirical graphics and circulate them out of context. But sometimes purveyors of disinformation create their own “fake news” reports — either to manufacture credibility for a false claim, as in the rumor above, or to falsely impugn a news source. The bottom line: Stay skeptical of screenshots or videos that appear to be news coverage unless they are linked to the website of the news organization whose branding appears in the post.

Related: “Fact Check-Video shows Finland moving tanks to planned military exercise, not to Russian border” (Reuters Fact Check).

You can find this week’s rumor examples to use with students in these slides.