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.
Discuss: How can AI tools be weaponized to create disinformation? How could AI technology like ChatGPT impact your school community? What are some pros and cons of using a chatbot? Should AI tools be regulated in some way?
Idea: Ask students to read through ChatGPT responses in the NewsGuard report. Which false topics did the chatbot push back on? Which debunked narratives did it write long responses to?
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.”
Discuss: Do you agree with the Times’ decision to run the photo? Why do you think most standards-based news organizations generally don’t run photos, as Poynter’s Tom Jones writes, “of people who are badly injured and/or dead”? When and why are there exceptions to this rule with certain stories or topics?
Idea: Use NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom program to connect with a visual journalist about how they choose photos and videos to publish in the news.
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.
Discuss: What real-life impacts have you observed from misinformation online? Why do you think this falsehood about students dressed as animals was repeated by commentators and politicians?
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.
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.
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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