The Sift: AI Anderson Cooper? | Musk promotes Pizzagate


Teach news literacy this week
AI Anderson Cooper? | Musk promotes Pizzagate

headshot of Flora Peir

Coming up:

News editor Flora Peir oversees the daily news operation at The 19th*. NLP’s Hannah Covington interviews her for News Goggles in our upcoming Dec. 11 newsletter.

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

Top picks

An illustration of two robot hands hovering over a typewriter with wadded-up pieces of paper nearby.
The use of generative AI tools in journalism requires transparency, media experts say. Illustration credit: Moor Studio/

Sports Illustrated appeared to use artificial intelligence technology to generate articles with fake bylines that even included AI-generated headshots and bios of nonexistent writers, Futurism reported. The author portraits were removed after Futurism reached out for comment and the sports magazine’s publisher, The Arena Group, later denied publishing AI-generated articles on the site and blamed a contractor.

The iconic sports magazine began publishing nearly 70 years ago. Sports Illustrated editorial staff, through a union statement, demanded that its parent company “commit to adhering to basic journalistic standards, including not publishing computer-written stories by fake people.”

classroom-ready icon Idea: Use these classroom-ready slides with students to determine whether three examples of news articles are AI-generated or written by human journalists.

When people see an AI-generated visual of a baby crying in a war zone, the emotional impact is the same as when they see a photo or video of a real baby, according to disinformation experts. Synthetic, AI-generated imagery of abandoned, injured and deceased babies — sometimes accompanied by images of families searching through rubble — has become a common type of online propaganda about the Israel-Hamas war. The fabricated images are engineered to provoke outrage, and experts say that synthetic imagery will be a challenge as well in upcoming elections, not just for spreading disinformation but also for sowing confusion between authentic photos and videos and fake ones.

classroom-ready icon Use this reading guide with NLP’s In Brief: Misinformation infographic to help students determine what misinformation is, why people share it and how to defend against it.

There used to be thousands of full-time editorial cartoonists working at newspapers in the U.S., but The Association for American Editorial Cartoonists estimates there are now fewer than 30. However, nonprofit newsrooms like Mississippi Today and San Diego-based inewsource are flying in the face of that trend: both have hired full-time cartoonists in hopes of connecting more with readers on social media and at community events. The nonprofit publications cover serious, in-depth news stories, and editorial cartoons help bring visual clarity and “cut through a lot of the tensions,” said Mississippi Today CEO Mary Margaret White.

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

Pizzagate conspiracy still false, despite Musk’s endorsement

A post on X from Elon Musk reads, “Does seem at least a little suspicious” and features a meme containing screenshots from the show The Office in which two characters are portrayed saying “Pizzagate is real,” “No it isn’t, we have experts,” “They trafficked children,” “But we have experts,” and “Your expert just went to jail for child porn.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MISINFORMATION-BASED MEME.”

NO: There is no truth to the conspiratorial claim that a child-sex trafficking ring was ever operated out of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza shop in Washington, D.C. YES: James Meek, a veteran reporter for ABC News, pleaded guilty to transportation and possession of child pornography in July 2023. NO: Meek was not a “Pizzagate expert” and was not involved with the network’s investigations into the debunked conspiracy theory. YES: The Pizzagate conspiracy theory — which is a precursor to QAnon conspiracy theories — was widely debunked by reporting from dozens of reputable, standards-based news and fact-checking organizations. YES: A fabricated New York post headline that falsely labeled Meek as the “journalist who ‘debunked’ Pizzagate” was circulated on social media in August 2023.

NewsLit takeaway: Purveyors of misinformation frequently fabricate false claims to spread and support false narratives, or to draw well-established facts into question. While those individual claims are often swiftly debunked, their underlying messages often persist on social media as they get repeated in new memes and posts. A piece of impostor content involving a fictional NY Post headline about the “journalist who debunked Pizzagate” being arrested for child pornography was debunked in August 2023, for example, but it was repurposed into a meme that was eventually shared by Elon Musk, the owner of X — whose account also has the most followers (164.5 million) on the platform.

Disinformation often contains a seed of truth, which can lend it a veneer of plausibility and bring it attention in pursuit of some other agenda. In this case, an ABC News reporter was truly arrested for possessing and transporting child pornography. But this fact has no bearing on the provably false and implausible nature of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. No number of endorsements or provocations from high-profile public figures can change that.


Fake headline pushes false Ukraine-Hamas connection

 A post on X reads, “Most of these weapons today come from Ukraine: NLAW, FGM-148 Javelin, FIM-92 Stinger and rocket systems, including those that Hamas does not have. ‘The underground warehouses are overcrowded,’ writes Moltisanti” and features an image that appears to be a screenshot of a Washington Post headline that says, “Weapons supplies from Ukraine to Hamas have tripled over the past month.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “IMPOSTOR CONTENT.”

NO: This is not a screenshot of an actual Washington Post headline or article. YES: The doctored screenshot is a piece of impostor content.

NewsLit takeaway: Purveyors of disinformation often try to gain widespread acceptance of false narratives by creating and spreading a variety of claims that repeat the same general falsehoods. While there’s no evidence that Ukraine is supplying weapons to the militant group Hamas, several social media posts have advanced this false pro-Russian narrative, which can trick people into assuming that there must be at least some truth to it.

Impostor content like this fake headline frequently circulates via doctored screenshots. When you come across sensational headlines shared as screenshots — without an accompanying link — it’s always a good idea to search for the article on the news outlet’s website to confirm that it’s authentic. Another red flag? Reuters pointed out that Christopher Moltisanti, similar to the name that appears in the byline, is a character from the HBO show The Sopranos.

Searching for something real in the age of AI? You’re not the only one. “Authentic” is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
A student made an AI version of journalist Anderson Cooper that looks and sounds just like him. Can you spot the difference in this video?
After boys at her high school created and distributed sexually explicit AI-generated images of her and her classmates, a 14-year-old appealed to members of Congress to clamp down on deepfakes. Legislators responded by reintroducing a bill to make AI fabrications of nonconsensual pornographic visuals a federal crime.
There have been 61 journalists and media workers killed during the Israel-Hamas war, and the Committee to Protect Journalists says it’s the deadliest month for journalists since the organization started tracking deaths in 1992.
Almost a third of the nearly 9,000 local newspapers that were operating in 2005 have since shut down — at a rate of more than two papers per week in recent years. Five journalists from the U.S. and abroad reflect how the local news gaps affect their regions in this Reuters Institute report.
Burned out by bad news? These high school journalists are producing solutions-oriented stories to help readers imagine ways to solve issues like racism, voter suppression, generational poverty and more.
People are more likely to believe misinformation if it’s repeated and if it appeals to emotions like fear and outrage, according to a new American Psychological Association report.
Is rodeo night a good time to dispel myths about election fraud? That’s one way that Radio Campesina, a Latino radio station network founded by civil rights icons Cesar Chavez, is building trust and reaching its audience to counter political misinformation.
Dozens of Substack newsletters espouse white supremacist and antisemitic rhetoric — and the platform is earning a cut of the profits, an Atlantic report found.
There may soon be a turning point soon in social media content moderation and interpretation of First Amendment rights for users on the platforms. The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear five cases on the matter before their term ends next June.
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Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Susan Minichiello (@susanmini), Dan Evon (@danieljevon), Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill). It is edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane) and Lourdes Venard (@lourdesvenard).

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.