Katy Perry’s eye, zombie rumors and other news literacy lessons

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Here’s the latest installment in a regular post I’ve hosted for several years: Lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project (NLP), which aims to teach students and the public how to separate fact from fiction in our digital — and controversial — age . Never in recent US history has this ability been as important as it is now, as rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated on social and partisan media sites.

Founded more than a decade ago by Pulitzer Prize-winning former Los Angeles Times reporter Alan Miller, NLP has grown to become the nation’s leading provider of news literacy. Learn more about the organization and its resources and programs here.

The material in this post comes from Sift, the organization’s newsletter for educators, which has nearly 22,000 subscribers. Published weekly throughout the school year, it examines current examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom issues, explores social media trends and issues, and includes discussion ideas and activities for the classroom. Get Smart About News, modeled after Sift, is a free weekly newsletter for the public.

NLP has an 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 deny, and what to debunk.

It also gives them an appreciation for the importance of the First Amendment and a free press. Checkology and all NLP resources and programs are free. Since 2016, more than 42,000 educators and 375,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have signed up to use the platform.

No, Eagles fans haven’t been vocally booing Jill Biden — and other news literacy lessons

Here’s footage from the November 31 issue of Sift:

1. The top editor at Oregon’s largest newspaper recently apologized for the newspaper’s historically racist and xenophobic reporting. The public apology introduces the Oregonian’s Publishing Prejudice series, a project inspired by the 2020 murder of George Floyd that explores the racist legacy of the 161-year-old daily. The Oregonian found its own reporting and editorials condoning lynchings, speaking out against equality, celebrating China’s Exclusion Law, supporting the imprisonment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, and more. In her apology, editor Therese Bottomly described the racist reporting from the paper’s archives as “Repulsive. Painful. Untenable.”

To discuss: What do you think of the Oregon editor’s apology? Why did she feel an apology was necessary? When news organizations publish apologies for their historically racist reporting, is that a useful way to restore trust? How is past news coverage affecting communities today?

Idea: Have students search their local newspaper archives on Newspapers.com [login required], or let them explore one of the newspapers included in this database of harmful historical reporting in the United States. Examine front pages from different eras and discuss how non-white residents are covered (or not covered). Who did the newspaper write for? How has reporting changed over the decades?

◦ “To atone: News outlets have apologized for past racism. Let this be just the beginning.” (Alexandria Neason, Columbia Journalism Review).

◦ “New database expands the scope of the ‘Printing Hate’ series” (The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism).

Use this thinksheet to better understand the Oregonian’s past racist reporting and how the newspaper is addressing the legacy it is leaving.

2. The Perceived Menace of Fentanyl-Laced Halloween Candy has raised alarm bells for some elected officials and the media, but doctors and drug experts say the warnings are overdone. Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, has followed news reports of contaminated treats for decades and found no evidence of a child being seriously injured or killed by treats received during the trick-or-treating process. While “rainbow fentanyl” is meant to look like candy, no drug cartels are known to have targeted Halloween candy.

To discuss: What is Zombie Rumor? Do you think the motives of some of the people who spread this rumor are different than the motives of concerned parents who shared it? What other types of overblown, fear-based rumors have you come across? Why do you think this type of rumor has spread so widely — and has for so many decades?

Resource: “Misinformation” (NLP’s virtual classroom Checkology®).

Related: “The spooky Halloween candy rumor spreads without evidence” (Dan Evon, NLP’s RumorGuard).

3. A municipal digital Altar of Día de Muertos Created by the Los Angeles Times last year was so popular – with more than 1,000 entries – that the paper is bringing it back this year. Readers can create their own digital ofrenda with photos and messages to celebrate and mourn loved ones who have passed away.

To discuss: Why did the Día de Muertos digital altar resonate with Times readers? How can newsrooms better engage with different audiences?

Related: “Opinion | Lessons from North Carolina on local immigration news coverage” (Liz Robbins, Poynter).

Election proposals sent to the dead do not prove fraud

NO: Requests for ballots sent to deceased individuals are not evidence that it is easy to vote on their behalf.

YES SIR: Every state has procedures to regularly remove dead people from the electoral roll, and motions filed on behalf of a dead person are routinely denied.

YES SIR: Attempting to obtain a ballot on behalf of a dead person is a criminal offense. On rare occasions, people attempt to vote on behalf of the dead and are accused of voter fraud.

YES SIR: Each state conducts additional checks — including signature verification and another check against updated voter rolls — to prevent fraud.

NewsLit to take away: Election misinformation often causes people to misinterpret common aspects of elections and can be self-perpetuating as it spreads. Third parties who send ballot applications are less diligent than state officials when it comes to keeping their records up to date, and they sometimes send applications to ineligible voters, contributing to a common but misguided assumption that votes are frequent given in the name of the dead. When it comes to staying up to date on election security, look for credible, verified information and official sources rather than viral claims on social media.

Recognizing fraudulent content on social media and other news literacy lessons

The claim wrongly attributes Katy Perry’s strange eye movement to the coronavirus vaccine

NO: The movement of Katy Perry’s eye in this video from her performance at a Las Vegas concert is not related to a side effect of the coronavirus vaccine.

YES SIR: The incident sparked further conspiratorial speculation about robot clones and even links to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

YES SIR: Perry has addressed the incident, explaining that it was a “party ploy” for her act.

NO: “Eye disorders” are not a known side effect of the coronavirus vaccine.

NewsLit to take away: Anti-vaccination trolls often try to find ways to attribute weird viral moments to the coronavirus vaccines, but such claims lack evidence and have the potential to spread harm. This video of Perry’s eye “glitching” during a concert in October 2022 was no exception. As the video garnered millions of views, many people dismissed the most likely explanations in favor of their favorite conspiratorial ideas. While these conspiratorial claims were far-reaching, they all shared one crucial feature: the complete lack of evidence.

These slides provide this week’s rumor examples to use with students.

• The man accused of trying to kidnap House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and assaulting her husband Paul was steeped in QAnon and other conspiratorial fringe beliefs. The new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, also spread misinformation about the attack in a tweet that has since been deleted.

• A new ProPublica investigation found that Google’s ads business funds disinformation around the world by regularly running ads on non-English websites that spread untruths about topics such as elections, vaccines, Covid-19 and climate change.

• In terms of trust in news, the Pew Research Center found that adults under the age of 30 now trust information on social media almost as much as national news organizations.

• The New York Times Learning Network has compiled eight films for high school students about digital media, covering topics such as children’s online privacy and the spread of conspiracy theories.

• In the Associated Press’ first TikTok, the global news outlet recognized its 176-year history of delivering news from Telegraph➡️Teletype➡️TikTok.

Recognizing fraudulent content on social media and other news literacy lessons

A false claim about the 2022 World Cup and other news literacy lessons

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