The Sift: Elon Musk ‘satire’ | Russia pressures teachers | Misleading presidential memes


Teach news literacy this week
Elon Musk ‘satire’ | Russia pressures teachers | Misleading presidential memes

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Viral rumor rundown

Russian state ‘news’ channel uses footage from TV series to falsely claim Ukrainians are staging deaths

A Telegram post containing a video showing two men preparing what appears to be a stunt dummy. The post includes the text “This is how the Armed Forces of Ukraine prepare their staged videos in order to shout at the top of their lungs: “it’s Putin’s fault”, and then, as in Bucha, these toys will be scattered along the streets of Kiev or Nikolaev. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, 'FOOTAGE FROM SET OF RUSSIAN TV SERIES.'

NO: The video in this post on the social messaging app Telegram does not show Ukrainian soldiers using a stunt dummy to stage fake fatalities in the war against Russia. YES: It is behind-the-scenes footage from the set of a TV show filmed in Russia on March 20. YES: Russian state-controlled “news” network Rossiya-24 aired the video and amplified the baseless claim in this post.

NewsLit takeaway: Dismissing evidence of its own atrocities as “fake” or staged is a core disinformation tactic of the Russian government — one it also used to spread doubt and confusion about its involvement in attacks on civilians during the Syrian civil war. This Telegram post is one of a number of videos presented out of context in recent weeks to push the baseless claim that Ukraine is staging deaths. Russian government sources have consistently promoted the same falsehood to dismiss civilian casualties in Mariupol and Bucha.



No, CNN didn’t report that Elon Musk would threaten free speech on Twitter

A Facebook post that says “Truly they have a dizzying intellect.” The post contains a screenshot that includes the false headline, “CNN: Elon Musk could threaten free speech on Twitter by literally allowing people to speak freely.” The screenshot also includes a byline from the satirical website Genesius Times and what appears to be a video still from a CNN broadcast with an on-screen text banner that repeats the bogus headline. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, 'DOCTORED IMAGE.'

NO: This is not an authentic screenshot of a CNN broadcast. NO: CNN did not include this statement concerning Elon Musk in any of its broadcasts. YES: This is a screenshot of a parody article published by the satirical website Genesius Times. YES: Both the photo of Musk and the text at the bottom of the screen were added digitally.

NewsLit takeaway: Digital images are easy to manipulate and even easier to copy and repost out of context. In this case, a satirical website used a doctored video still from a Jan. 28, 2020, broadcast featuring CNN anchor Don Lemon with a parody article about Musk joining Twitter’s board of directors. However, it’s clear from responses to this rumor (see here, here and here) that many people believed it was authentic. Stealing images, other graphics and headlines from satirical articles is a common tactic used to spark outrage or partisan disdain. But such pieces can spread confusion and misperceptions about organizations and institutions and important issues like content moderation. This example includes several noticeable red flags for readers who pause long enough to notice them: The name of the publication (Genesius Times) and the questionable byline (Exavier Saskagoochie) both suggest this isn’t a legitimate story, as does the clumsily doctored text at the bottom of the image.

Related: “Fact Check-Screenshot purporting to show CNN tweet claiming that child soldiers are fighting in eastern Ukraine is digitally altered” (Reuters Fact Check).


Sen. Marsha Blackburn didn’t make white power symbol at Justice Jackson’s confirmation hearing

A tweet that says “GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn flashing a white power symbol during Justice Jackson’s confirmation hearing. Please retweet to spread awareness of this hatred from the Republican Party.” The tweet includes a photo of Blackburn in which the thumb and forefinger of one hand are touching. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says 'FALSE.'

NO: Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn did not flash a white power symbol with her hand at the April 7 confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. YES: A photo of Blackburn was taken on April 7 during a different hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. NO: A spokesperson for Blackburn contacted by Reuters described the claim involving her hand position as “fabricated” and “beyond absurd and completely false.”

NewsLit takeaway: The “OK” hand symbol has been associated with white nationalism since 2017, when a trolling hoax spread from the internet message board 4chan to some segments of the far right and white supremacist movements. Since then, the symbol has been used by some white nationalists as a way to provoke outrage, and has inspired other viral rumors, including about President Joe Biden, Roger Stone, Kyle Rittenhouse and a contestant on Jeopardy. Besides invoking a complicated and often incidental troll gesture, this rumor includes two more red flags: It makes a strong appeal to partisan rancor and explicitly asks for retweets.

You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to have students analyze an article in this week's Sift from a news literacy perspective.
Russian authorities are pushing propaganda about the war in Ukraine into schools across the country — including through "teaching guides" promoting pro-Russian misinformation — and teachers who deviate from these materials can face fines, prosecutions and possibly being fired.
Like other big social media platforms, TikTok announced last month that it was suspending uploads and livestreams from users in Russia. But unlike other platforms, TikTok also “walled off Russian users from seeing any posts at all from outside the country.” Experts say the new policies are flawed, effectively isolating Russians while still allowing some state propaganda to spread globally.
Efforts to retool an annual newsroom diversity survey and boost participation have been met with “crushing resistance”, with just 303 news organizations responding to an effort that reached out to thousands of them. (The survey, which provides an industry benchmark for diversity efforts, remains open.)
Despite efforts to hire more people of color, The Washington Post is losing Black journalists at disproportionately high rates, according to a study from the news organization’s union that examined pay, diversity and retention. The study found that more than one in three Guild-covered employees who left the newsroom in 2020 were Black.
A new survey from PEN America of more than 1,000 U.S. journalists found that "disinformation is significantly changing the practice of journalism,” with 81 percent of respondents considering it “a very serious problem” for journalism today.
Critics have long seized on embarrassing or funny moments that make presidents seem ineffective, disoriented or weak, but this trend has accelerated in the digital age as new tools and technologies make it easier than ever to manipulate photos and videos in misleading ways and spread them without context on social media.
The first all-female media organization in Somalia is providing new opportunities for women journalists in the country, who often face abuse from male colleagues and other challenges in the workplace. Funded by the United Nations Development Program, the project will shine a light on issues such as gender-based violence and women in business and politics.
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver recently highlighted the “sprawling, unregulated ecosystem” of online data brokers that buys and sells personal information that can easily be “deanonymized” and used to identify specific people.

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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

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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.