The Sift: AI bots spreading disinfo | ‘Sextortion’ on Instagram

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
April 15, 2024

Sign up for this newsletter.


Teach news literacy this week
AI bots spreading disinfo | 'Sextortion' on Instagram

Hi friend of news literacy',

Do you love using NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom? We’re proud to say that Checkology has been nominated for a Webby Award this year, but we need your help to win. 📣 To show your support, please vote for Checkology at this link.

Thank you!

The Sift team
classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

Top picks

An illustration of a person holding a laptop computer with a voting checkmark on it.
Election disinformation can spread from AI-powered bots behind social media accounts. Image credit: News Literacy Project.
Top pick 1

Beware of AI-powered bot accounts on social media, which can amplify disinformation and can be bought to boost the number of followers for an account. Social media companies often aren’t transparent about the number of bots on their platform, but in 2017 researchers found that there were around 23 million bots on Twitter (now called X), or about 8.5% of the platform’s users — and more than two-thirds of all tweets at the time came from these accounts. Much of this disinformation revolves around political campaigns. Teach your students how to protect themselves from online bots by using critical thinking and media literacy skills to evaluate information and check sources.

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet for students to take notes on how to protect themselves from being manipulated by AI-powered bots (meets NLP Standard 4).
Top pick 2

Most newsroom staffers are using artificial intelligence in some capacity, a major shift in the influence of AI technology in journalism. A new Associated Press study found that nearly 70% of 292 newsroom staffers surveyed last December are using AI to generate social media posts; write story drafts and headlines; and translate or transcribe interviews. However, less than half of the respondents said they have guidelines for AI usage in their newsrooms. One of the study’s authors, Hannes Cools, noted that “generative AI is here to stay” and that experimentation and discussions of AI use in journalism “could lead to more responsible use.”

Top pick 3

Instagram will blur nude photos in direct messages to help prevent young people from falling for online scams like sexual extortion, or “sextortion.” The nudity blur feature will be automatically turned on for Instagram users under 18 but won’t be added to parent company Meta’s other platforms (Facebook and WhatsApp). Although the feature is a positive step, former Meta engineering director Arturo Béjar said it doesn’t go far enough in combating the problem. Béjar’s research found that 1 in 8 teens receive an unwanted advance on Instagram every seven days — a reality he says won’t change until the platform provides more tools and is transparent about the problem.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project, Checkology and presents a free webinar called “AI, the Digital Landscape, and Misinformation-Busting Superpowers for Students” April 16.
RumorGuard Rundown
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.


Posts falsely claim surge in migrants registering to vote without photo ID

A post on X reads, “HOLY **** The number of voters registering without a photo ID is SKYROCKETING in 3 key swing states: Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Since the start of 2024: TX: 1,250,710. PA: 580,513. AZ: 220,731. HAVV allows voters to register with a Social Security Number (4 digits). Illegals are not able to get licenses there. But they can get Social Security Cards (for work authorization permits). Data is publicly available” with a link following the text that appears to be to a Social Security Administration website. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: Millions of people did not register to vote without a photo ID in Texas, Pennsylvania and Arizona during the first three months of 2024.

NO: Noncitizens cannot vote in federal elections in the United States, even if they are authorized to work in the U.S. and have obtained a Social Security number.

YES: The data cited in the posts refers to the total number of requests from these states to the Social Security Administration to verify voter identities using their Social Security numbers over the past three months, not to new voter registrations.

YES: State election officials in Texas, Pennsylvania and Arizona said the totals cited in the posts are incorrect and that the actual number of new voter registration applications is far lower.

NewsLit takeaway: Social media posts that cite statistics and links can appear, at first glance, to offer sound evidence for claims. While it can be tempting to accept the “evidence” that accompanies sensational posts like these — especially when they confirm a pre-existing belief — it’s always good to pause and critically examine them further. In this case, genuine data is being misrepresented to support the false claim that voting is being rigged and to undermine people’s faith in democracy and elections.

The claim that noncitizens are registering to vote is part of a growing trend in election misinformation that seeks to exploit controversy over illegal immigration to push falsehoods that exaggerate the threat of election fraud. Finally, it’s always important to consider the source of a claim before engaging with a social media post. In this case, this rumor was being spread by accounts that frequently push falsehoods.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project announces that Checkology is a Webby Award nominee and asks readers to vote for Checkology. The URL for the web page to vote is
A controversial essay by a longtime NPR editor alleges that the news organization has veered more politically left in recent years as it embraced diversity initiatives — while other NPR journalists say those initiatives are more inclusive and representative of the public. The essay sparked journalism debates about news biasracism and politics.
Can you spot AI-generated audio or video? This CNBC piece highlights ways to verify a voice or video to avoid being scammed by tech-savvy bad actors — for example, by asking someone for “proof of life” or a code word.
A group of Canadian teen fact-checkers are using skills like “lateral reading” and reverse image search to verify social media posts — with one teen saying his experience falling for a “free” Drake concert hoax motivated him to learn how to assess credibility.
Former NBA player John Stockton is suing Washington state officials who cracked down on COVID-19 misinformation from doctors, citing his own unscientific beliefs against vaccines.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that COVID-19 vaccines are not connected to fatal heart problems in young people. The false claim about heart problems has persisted among vaccine deniers.
Researchers found that communities with high levels of despair — driven by factors like high poverty rates, inadequate access to medical care and a lack of credible local news sources — are more vulnerable to misinformation.
Two tribal nations filed a lawsuit against several major social media companies, including Facebook and Instagram owner Meta Platforms, saying these platforms contribute to high rates of suicide among Native American youth.
A look back: Nearly 150 million Americans tuned in for the 1995 not guilty verdict in the O.J. Simpson case. It’s unlikely we’ll all watch the same news event like that again.
High school students who play a “choose your own adventure” journalism game developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are coming away from it thinking more about credibility in the news. 📰
How do you like this newsletter?
Dislike? Not sure? Like? Click to fill out our feedback survey.
Love The Sift? Please take a moment to forward it to your colleagues, or they can subscribe here.

Thanks for reading!

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).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the non-educator version of The Sift called Get Smart About News here.


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