The Sift: ChatGPT misuse | Showing violent images | Debunking ozone myths


Teach news literacy this week
ChatGPT misuse | Showing violent images | Debunking ozone myths


Coming up:

Los Angeles Times reporter Libor Jany covers the L.A. Police Department. NLP’s Hannah Covington interviews him for News Goggles in our upcoming Feb. 6 newsletter.

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

Top picks

ChatGPT, a chatbot utilizing AI to generate text, launched in November 2022. The controversial tool raises a variety of concerns, from cheating in school assignments to producing misinformation. (Illustration credit: Shutterstock)

ChatGPT, a free and publicly accessible artificial intelligence text generator, is a new tool that not only produces human-sounding academic essays within seconds, but it can also be used to create mis- and disinformation online. A NewsGuard analysis found that when ChatGPT was prompted with 100 false narratives — about Ukraine, immigration, COVID-19, school shootings and more — it complied with 80% of requests, raising concerns about the tool’s potential to be exploited to perpetuate disinformation and propaganda.

classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on how AI can be exploited to create disinformation. 

What visuals are appropriate and ethical to show in the news when reporting violence? This Poynter piece digs into the Los Angeles Times’ decision to run a Jan. 23 front-page photo of a mass shooting suspect after he died by suicide. The photo was taken from a distance. A Times vice president of communications explained editors “carefully weigh the news value of photos depicting death” and that they believed this photo was “an important piece of journalism.”


A baseless rumor about students dressing and identifying as animals in schools led an Indiana lawmaker to address dress code policies in a recent state education bill. Indiana educators say that furries — a subculture of people interested in anthropomorphism — are not an issue in K-12 schools, according to The Indianapolis Star. Debunked rumors that schools are allowing students to identify as animals have been repeated by conservative commentators and politicians who peg this “as an extension of allowing [students] to choose their own gender identity,” the newspaper reported.

Love RumorGuard? Receive timely updates by signing up for RG alerts here.

Lisa Marie Presley didn’t post about COVID-19 vaccine before her death

A tweet reads, “I wonder what Lisa Marie would tell people today if she were still alive?” and features a screenshot of a pro-vaccination social media post from someone named “Lisa Marie.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “NOT LISA MARIE PRESLEY.”

NO: There is no evidence that Lisa Marie Presley’s death was related to the COVID-19 vaccine. NO: Presley did not write a post about getting the COVID-19 vaccine shortly before her death. YES: The “Lisa Marie” who wrote the post is a fashion stylist and influencer from Venezuela. YES: Anti-vaxxers have repeatedly exploited celebrity deaths by baselessly claiming they were caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.

NewsLit takeaway: The appetite for information related to a trending news story is often exploited by bad actors seeking to push disinformation. In the wake of Presley’s death on Jan. 12, vaccine deniers seized on a screenshot of a social media post published by an account from “Lisa Marie.” The post was authentic; it was shared on Facebook by Lisa Marie Borjas, a beauty blogger and influencer whose name on Facebook is simply, “Lisa Marie.” Social media posts that circulate online as a screenshot are sometimes misleading. Because they contain no direct links, they can easily spread misinformation that isn’t simple to verify. Basic verification skills — such as a quick search for a portion of the text of the post — would have found fact checks proving the original author was a fashion stylist in Venezuela.


Vibranium? No, electrically charged rocks weren’t discovered in Congo

A tweet reads, “Electrically charged stones discovered in the Democratic republic of Congo, now more trouble coming, cry my beloved Africa” and features a video supposedly showing an electric charge between two rocks. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE CONCLUSION.”

NO: This video does not show a newly discovered type of electrically charged rock. YES: Some rocks can serve as conduits for electricity. NO: Experts and geologists told news agencies that these rocks are not “generating some kind of voltage” on their own. NO: This rumored discovery has not been verified by any credible scientific body or other standards-based source.

NewsLit takeaway: Sometimes the most important part of a video is happening just out of frame. When a series of videos went viral — videos that supposedly show rocks acting as batteries to power small electrical devices, such as lightbulbs — various experts weighed in to note that this footage did not comport with what was known about geology. Some rocks can conduct electricity, but they cannot generate energy. So how does the stunt in this video work? There is likely a battery hiding out of frame.

Remember, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. In this case, we have one assertion — a previously unknown material was discovered that acts unlike any other geological formation and can produce an infinite amount of energy — to weigh against the likelihood that someone made a deceptive video and shared it online. What seems more plausible? Also note that major scientific discoveries are unlikely to be announced first on social media.

You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
One climate change skeptic racked up millions of views on TikTok after making false claims that global threats like the ozone layer thinning decades ago were “fear-mongering nonsense.” Experts in this CBC story explain how scientific research and policy changes put the ozone on track to recover.
The October 2022 cover of a student publication at a university in Los Angeles County was supposed to be a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, but instead included four anti-Latino racial slurs — without input from student staffers. This LAist story digs into the nebulous decision-making behind the cover and the harm that resulted.
An art professor on sabbatical during the pandemic took photos of 115 newspaper offices across Kansas. His photo project, “Fourth Estate,” features small-town papers that have closed or have downsized, providing a poignant view of local journalism’s struggle to survive.
A coalition of journalism groups representing over 3,000 newsrooms has formed Rebuild Local News, a nonprofit organization that will lobby for policies that help sustain local news.
The New York Times has joined TikTok, and its first video on the social media platform was about the Monterey Park, California, mass shooting.
What happens when TikTok is your only search tool? A Wired writer documented her weeklong experiment using only TikTok for search. (Spoiler: She ends up needing Google.)
ICYMI: In case you missed it, the most-clicked link in The Sift last week was the Edelman Trust Barometer, an online survey that sampled respondents in 28 countries about trust in institutions, including media. The survey found that the U.S. is one of six “severely polarized” countries.
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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).

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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.