It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by news coverage during an election season. With so many sources competing for attention, how can we know what to trust? Professional journalism standards are one important sign of credibility. Reputable news organizations aspire to ethical guidelines and standards, including fairness, accuracy and independence.
This week, we talk to data reporter Emilie Munson of the Times Union, a local news organization based in Albany, New York, with a coverage area that includes the state’s Capital Region and Hudson Valley. Munson sheds light on the Times Union’s decision to publish a guide explaining how the news organization covers elections and politics — and the role of journalism standards in its news decisions. We also discuss the Times Union’s strict policies on the use of anonymous or unnamed sources. Grab your news goggles!
Note: Look for this newsletter feature the first Monday of the month. You can explore previous News Goggles videos, annotations and activities in NLP’s Resource Library under “Classroom Activities.”
Idea: Have students watch this video on disinformation [link warning: racist language] to explore how social media can politically radicalize users. Discuss examples from the video of real-life incidents resulting from online conspiracy theories and disinformation about election fraud.
Five widespread election falsehoods identified by The New York Times include baseless narratives about rigged voting machines, rampant ballot fraud, votes by people who are dead or undocumented, distrust of voting by mail and delays in vote counts deemed as “irregularities.” These debunked falsehoods build on familiar lies spread during the 2020 election that continue to circulate on social media.
Discuss: What election falsehoods have you encountered? Where did you see them? Why do you think false claims like the ones identified by the Times spread online? What impact does election disinformation have on American democracy?
YES: Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was violently attacked at the couple’s home in San Francisco on Oct. 28. YES: The accused attacker, David DePape, has been charged with a range of crimes by state and federal officials, including attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening the life of a public official. NO: Despite widespread claims, DePape was not wearing only underwear when police arrived. NO: DePape and Pelosi did not know each other, did not visit a gay bar together before the attack and were not engaged in a tryst when police arrived. YES: Partisans cited excerpts of coded language that Pelosi used with an emergency dispatcher and other details to push misleading questions about the attack and to imply that it was staged.
NewsLit takeaway: Breaking news events are often chaotic and confusing to follow. Confirmed details take time to emerge, especially when there is a criminal investigation involved. In the interim, trolls and other bad actors, along with well-intentioned internet sleuths, try to fill the information void with speculation, baseless claims and fabrications. Their goals range from the pursuit of engagement and clout, to establishing favorable political narratives, to intentionally spreading confusion to obscure the truth.
The attack on Pelosi fit this pattern. Partisans immediately sought to concoct conspiratorial narratives to minimize the seriousness of the attack and to upstage the political motivations behind it. The Pelosi attack falsehoods are a solemn reminder to be cautious about sharing or amplifying information and to avoid jumping to conclusions during breaking news events until a fuller, fact-based picture emerges.
NewsLit takeaway: Convincing fabricated statements can be created and shared in minutes, and often surface in the immediate aftermath of breaking news. The fake Trump statement spread quickly online after Musk closed his Twitter purchase. While supporters like commentator Dinesh D’Souza posted it as if it were genuine (the tweet was subsequently deleted), Trump’s political action committee never posted the statement on its official site or released any such statement to reporters.
Screenshots of alleged statements or social media posts that circulate without any live URLs are a red flag for credibility. Searches for additional news sources also often reveal only a single or partisan source for a piece of viral content.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
In collaboration with the Pew Research Center, a BBC reporter created five fake social media accounts to research how algorithms push disinformation to Americans online and its political impacts. While the experiment partially revealed how algorithms work, some experts say creating fake accounts crosses an ethical line.
Researchers found that Russia reactivated government-sponsored troll accounts ahead of the midterm elections to stir up anger, undermine Americans’ trust in elections and paint the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine as wasteful spending.
An NBC News report about the Paul Pelosi attack, retracted for inaccurate information, continues to fuel conspiracy theories shared online and on TV by conservative commentators.
A new Knight Foundation poll found that about six in 10 Americans worry disinformation will influence the midterm elections.
The vast majority of people who kill journalists in retaliation for their work face no punishment, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists — a fact that the mother of journalist James Foley, who was killed by ISIS in 2014, is trying to change.
Why do we fall for misinformation? Psychologists say it’s because our brains use mental shortcuts and hold on to falsehoods even after hearing the truth.
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