Content media

Detect fake content on social networks

This is the first fall 2022 episode of a weekly column I’ve edited for several years: Lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project (NLP), which aims to teach students and the public how to sort out the facts of Fiction in Our Digital and Controversial Age. There has never been a time in recent US history when this skill has been more important, due to the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories on social media and partisan sites.

NLP was founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the Los Angeles Times, and it has become the leading provider of information literacy education in the nation. You can learn more about the organization, its resources, and its programs here.

Content for this article comes from The Sift, the organization’s newsletter for educators, which has nearly 22,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, discusses media and press freedom topics, explores social media trends and issues, and includes discussion prompts and activities to the class. Get Smart About News, modeled after The Sift, is a free weekly newsletter aimed at the public.

NLP has an online learning platform, Checkology, which helps educators teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, research reliable sources, and know what to trust, what to reject, and what demystify.

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 registered to use the platform.

Here is material from the May 19 edition of The Sift:

Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s class-ready resource.

1. About 1 in 5 videos are auto-suggested on TikTok contain misinformation, according to a new report from NewsGuard. Search results on urgent and consequential topics — including vaccines, abortion, climate change, school shootings, the 2020 election, the January 6 uprising and the war in Ukraine — are littered with deceptive videos on the popular social media platform, NewsGuard researchers said. TikTok is one of the most popular domains in the world, especially among young people.

NewsGuard analyzed 540 TikTok search results, of which they found 105 videos “containing false or misleading claims”. They also found that when users entered neutral phrases, such as “climate change”, the platform suggested searching for false statements such as “climate change does not exist”.

Discuss: Do you use TikTok? If so, what kind of videos do you watch on the platform? How often do you see TikTok videos about current issues and events? How do you know if a video is factual or not? Have you ever reported a disinformation video on TikTok? Do you think strategies such as user reports and AI technology are effective in filtering misinformation on social media?

Idea: In small groups, have students research a trending topic on TikTok. Ask them to save searches suggested by TikTok as they type in their topic. Next, ask students to view the top five videos in their results and assess the credibility of each: Is the video factually accurate? Inaccurate? Are they uncertain? Finally, ask groups of students to discuss their observations and share ideas on how to verify content on TikTok.

Resource: “Introduction to Algorithms” (NLP Checkology virtual class).

◦ “For Gen Z, TikTok is the new search engine” (Kalley Huang, The New York Times).

◦ “Teens are now turning to TikTok more than Google — but not for schoolwork” (Nadia Tamez-Robledo, EdSurge).

◦ “Lawmakers Toast TikTok Executive Over China Ties” (David McCabe, The New York Times).

Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to explore how TikTok’s search results generate misleading information.

2. It has been 130 years since a former slave borrowed $200 to start the African-American newspaper in Baltimore. Commonly referred to as the Afro, the award-winning newspaper recently celebrated its anniversary and describes itself as a source of “good news about the black community not found otherwise”.

Idea: Have students examine the media coverage featured on Afro.com. What kind of stories do they see? How might these stories be of interest to the news publishing audience? What distinguishes the coverage of this medium from more traditional news sources?

An other idea: Have students use this map to explore media across the United States that primarily serve black communities.

Climate change denial spreads via fake CNN headline

NOPE: The screenshot of this tweet is not an actual article published by CNN.

YES: This is impostor content designed to look like a CNN article.

NOPE: Climate and weather are not the same thing.

YES: Global warming and climate change can cause harsh winter conditions.

NewsLit Takeaway: Imposter content is often designed to whitewash misconceptions through a credible source. Using a CNN fabricated headline to promote this lie accomplishes two things: it lends credence to an obviously false claim for those inclined to believe it, and it damages CNN’s reputation and credibility. for those who are not. Remember that although the weather changes from season to season, the impacts of climate change can be felt throughout the year. Confusing weather and climate is a common strategy used to downplay the magnitude of climate change. Recognizing this distinction makes us all less susceptible to misinformation about climate change.

No, Donald Trump did not say he was privately knighted by Queen Elizabeth II

NOPE: This is not a real message from Trump about being privately knighted by the Queen.

NOPE: This message was never posted to Trump’s account on Truth Social, the former president’s social media platform.

YES: This is a fabricated post on Truth Social that went viral on Twitter.

NewsLit Takeaway: Beware of so-called social media posts that only circulate as images in the form of screenshots. A host of online tools make it easy to craft social media post images. While these pieces of forged impostor content might look convincing, a big red flag gives these posts as fake: they don’t have URLs connected to the subject’s social media profile (in this case, Trump), and many of these alleged posts have the same number of likes and shares. We’ve covered similar pieces of impostor content, and you can get an overview of how to investigate this type of rumor here.

• As student journalists increasingly speak out about the threats and intimidation they face, new research highlights the importance of preparing student journalists to deal with workplace harassment.

• This is the first school year that media literacy is required in Illinois high schools, and it can be taught in any subject, even physical education.

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