This is the latest installment in the 2020-2021 school year of a weekly feature on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students how to distinguish between what is real and what is not in an age of digital communication in which the president routinely denounces real news as “fake.”
The material comes from the project’s 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 is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.
The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades six through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. Checkology is available free to educators, students, school districts and parents. Since 2016, more than 29,000 educators and parents in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 1,000 educators and parents and over 34,000 students have actively used Checkology.
You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides in this piece, but here is a rundown:
Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.
It creates digital curriculums and other resources and works with educators and journalists to teach middle and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and it 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.
Here’s material from the Oct. 26 Sift:
Misinformation, from falsehoods to conspiracy theories, threatens our public health and the integrity of our elections. Now, a new online resource lays out specific examples of coordinated misinformation efforts and explains how they work. The Media Manipulation Casebook maps out current and previous “media manipulation and disinformation campaigns” to help educators, journalists, researchers and others understand how to detect and debunk them. The project was created by a team of researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and led by Joan Donovan, its research director.
The resource features a collection of more than a dozen case studies that analyze misinformation campaigns — including where they originated, and when and how they spread.
One case study details how “distributed amplification” led to the viral spread in May of “Plandemic,” a video purporting to preview a “documentary” involving a variety of covid-19 conspiracy theories.
Another case study on the February 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, explains the way bad actors online pushed disinformation about the identity of the suspected shooter as news of the incident unfolded.
A couple of case studies describe “butterfly attacks” — which occur when impostors pretend to be a member of a group in an effort to divide, confuse and spread disinformation among the group.
Note: Some of the casebook’s researchers are hosting online sessions to discuss their work as part of Disinformation Awareness Week, which began Oct. 26.
Discuss: Why are breaking news events and political contests breeding grounds for misinformation?
Idea: Pick five case studies and evenly divide students into five groups, each of which will examine one case study and become “experts” on it. Ask students to note how the misinformation spread, the tactics used, any new concepts and terms, where the misinformation appeared, and whether standards-based news organizations reported on the misinformation. Then have one member of each group share what was learned about its case with students from other groups.
Resources: “Misinformation” and “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).
Viral rumor rundown
NO: The photo (above left) of the rappers — wearing “Trump 2020” hats is not authentic.
YES: The photo (above right) of Ice Cube, wearing a hat with the Big3 basketball league logo, and 50 Cent, wearing a New York Yankees hat, is authentic.
YES: Ice Cube tweeted the original photo on July 6.
YES: Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, tweeted and later deleted the doctored image on Oct. 20.
YES: Ice Cube recently discussed his “Contract With Black America” with the Trump campaign.
YES: 50 Cent criticized Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plan to raise taxes on people making more than $400,000 a year in a recent post on Instagram.
Note: Photos that include messages printed on clothing and signs — including placards, protest signs and billboards — are easy to manipulate. They are a common type of doctored image.
★ Featured rumor resource: Eric Trump deleted this tweet hours after he posted it. So how can you know he really tweeted it? Can you find a copy of this deleted tweet online that you can be certain is legitimate? These classroom-ready slides use this example to teach students how to search archived and cached web content to find deleted Web pages, including tweets.
NO: This image is not an authentic tweet from President Trump.
YES: This is a fake tweet that circulated following the release of controversial footage involving former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (a personal lawyer for Trump) caught up in a prank by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
Note: The Twitter account that shared this fake tweet contains clear signs that it’s unreliable, including its name — “Rogue WH Snr Advisor” — and profile bio (which reads “Top 10 Twitter account according to my blog ‘The Top 10 Accounts on Twitter’”).
Also note: Convincing images of fake tweets are extremely easy to produce. If you see a screenshot of an outrageous tweet by a public figure, remain skeptical.
Tip: Deleted tweets from Trump and other public officials are tracked and documented on ProPublica’s Politwoops website.