The Sift Bonus issue: This week’s viral rumors

  News Literacy Project
In last week’s issue of The Sift, we announced that there would be no issue this week because we would be in Austin, Texas, at the SXSW EDU conference. After the conference (and the rest of SXSW) was canceled on Friday, we decided to produce a shorter issue, featuring this week’s viral rumor rundown.

Had we produced a full issue this week, we likely would have focused on misinformation about COVID-19 in our lead item — especially the role that private groups on Facebook and other platforms are playing in spreading it; the ways that vendors of fake cures and “spear-phishing” scammers are trying to use public concern about the virus for personal gain; and a statement by the head of the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center that the “entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation” is pushing misinformation about the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19. We have shared some links about these topics in the rumor rundown below and again at the top of this week’s reading list, which is linked in the footer of this newsletter.

Other topics we would have addressed this week include two more libel suits filed by the Trump campaign against news organizations (The Washington Post and CNN); new findings from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that highlight the lack of women in news media leadership roles; and problematic ads on Facebook (including some from the Trump campaign).

Thank you for reading.

NO: A man in his early 20s did not escape from a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine on a U.S. military base. NO: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not run this Facebook ad about this nonexistent “escapee.” YES: This ad (note the word “Sponsored”) was purchased by an imposter page named “Covid19” and using the CDC logo.

NO: A mainstream media (MSM) news outlet did not stage evidence of COVID-19 panic by removing goods from shelves in a grocery store. YES: The Romanian TV news program Observator did use video of empty store shelves and coolers in a report on Feb. 26 about people buying large quantities of specific items, such as flour, canned goods and water, to prepare for a possible outbreak of the disease. YES: The photo in the post above was taken during a live report broadcast the next day, and the news channel whose reporter appears in the photo above has debunked this claim.

Note: There is far more misinformation about COVID-19 and the strain of coronavirus that causes it than we can adequately address here. For additional coverage of what the World Health Organization has called an “infodemic,” see:
Discuss: Why do you think rumors like this have appeal? What journalism standards and ethic policies address the authenticity of photos and video footage?
NO: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden did not say, “We can only re-elect Donald Trump” as an endorsement of President Donald Trump. YES: At a rally in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 7, Biden spoke about the need for Democrats to stop attacking one another, saying “we can only re-elect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad.” YES: The White House’s social media director, Dan Scavino, tweeted — and Trump retweeted — a selectively edited clip of those remarks. YES: Twitter applied its new “manipulated media” label to Scavino’s tweet, but as of March 9, the label is appearing only in users’ timelines, not on the original tweet. YES: Facebook also added its standard warning to posts containing the video, saying it had been rated by its fact-checkers as partly false. YES: In a subsequent tweet, Scavino objected to the label, saying that the video was not manipulated.

Discuss: Is the video clip in Scavino’s original tweet an example of misinformation? Should it be considered an example of disinformation (information that is intentionally false and meant to deceive or mislead), or is it merely pointed political satire? Do you think it is an example of manipulated media? Is a different label needed for video clips that are authentic but misleadingly edited? Why or why not?
NO: Joe Biden did not say in a video with Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, that he is “coming for” Americans’ guns if he wins the presidential election in November. YES: After O’Rourke endorsed Biden on March 2, the two men and O’Rourke’s wife, Amy, had a meal at a Whataburger in Dallas. During that meal, Biden praised O’Rourke’s work on gun control and climate change and said, “I just want to warn Amy, if I win, I’m coming for him” — meaning O’Rourke, possibly to serve in his administration. YES: The original video of this conversation was shared by O’Rourke on Facebook Live (this quote appears around the 20:30 mark of the video).
YES: Michael Bloomberg spent over $500 million on political ads during his short candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. NO: That is not enough to give every person in the United States $1 million. YES: A tweet making this claim was uncritically cited by New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay — and shown on air — during her March 5 appearance on MSNBC’s The 11th Hour; the show’s anchor, Brian Williams, also endorsed the claim. YES: It would take more than $329 trillion — 1 million times the estimated population of the U.S. on March 5 (329.4 million people) — to give every person in the U.S. $1 million.
Your weekly issue of The Sift is put together by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams) and Suzannah Gonzales of the News Literacy Project.
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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