The Sift: Facebook vs. Australia | Texas rumors | Granting fresh starts

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Teach news literacy this week
Facebook vs. Australia | Texas rumors | Granting fresh starts


Facebook vs. Australia

A screenshot of the notification Facebook users outside of Australia receive when they attempt to post a link from an Australian news organization. Users in Australia are blocked from posting links to news from any organization in the world.

Facebook and the Australian government are struggling over new regulations that would require tech companies to pay news publishers for the right to include links to their content on social media and in searches. Facebook declined to negotiate a deal with publishers (whereas Google did) and instead instituted a sweeping ban on Feb. 17 that prevents publishers and people in Australia from sharing links to news on the platform. Facebook also blocked all of its users globally from sharing links to news produced by Australian outlets. The ban — which Facebook claimed “does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content” — also temporarily disabled the pages of a wide range of government and advocacy organizations, including a domestic violence support line, FoodBank Australia and some government-run weather, fire and health agencies.

In a statement announcing the ban, William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, wrote that the “proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content” and also “seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.” Australian lawmakers, however, argue that tech giants have usurped news organizations’ advertising revenue by dominating the digital ad market, while still benefiting from standards-based news by selling ads against the traffic it produces.

The legislation — called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code — is expected to pass the Australian Senate and become law later this month. The new regulations will set an important precedent as a number of other countries work on similar legislative efforts to force digital media companies — especially the “duopoly” of Facebook and Google — to share revenue with news organizations.

Note: Google in January also threatened to shut down its some of its services in Australia over the proposed law, but later agreed to deals with several Australian media companies.
Discuss: Should tech companies pay for news? Are tech companies responsible for the collapse of the journalism business? Can democracy survive without journalism? Should Facebook and Google be subject to other kinds of regulations, such as laws that would hold them responsible for harmful content shared on their platforms? Does this law fundamentally change the nature of the internet or does it hold Big Tech to account?
Idea: Have students read one or more recent news reports about Australia’s proposed law and Facebook’s news ban, then have them take sides in the debate. Is the law a necessary response to monopolistic practices by tech companies that benefit from news publishers but deny them ad revenue? Or is it a “shakedown” of successful technology companies that seeks to prop up an industry that has failed to reinvent its business model for the digital age?

Viral rumor rundown

NO: Frozen wind turbines were not the primary cause of the recent power outages in Texas. YES: Texas mostly relies on natural gas for power and heat. YES: Wind energy comprises only 10 percent of the power in the state generated during the winter, according to energy experts. YES: All sources of power in Texas — including natural gas, coal and nuclear energy in addition to renewable sources like wind and solar — were affected by a record stretch of cold temperatures, with freezing components causing shutdowns in operations and supply chains.


NO: This video shared on Twitter is not a statement from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s director of communications. YES: It’s a satirical video posted by comedian Blaire Erskine about Cruz’s controversial trip to Cancun.

Tip: It only takes a moment to check the profile of unfamiliar accounts on social media — particularly on Twitter, which displays a snapshot of the profile when you hover over the username:


NO: Cruz did not tweet in 2016 that he’ll “believe in climate change when Texas freezes over.” YES: That’s an image of a fake tweet.

Tip: Convincing images of fake tweets are extremely easy to create. Be wary of old, “too perfect” tweets from public figures. They are often fakes.


NO: Celebrity televangelist Joel Osteen did not refuse to open his “megachurch” to those affected by widespread power outages during one of the coldest winters in Texas in decades. YES: Lakewood Church, where Osteen is the senior pastor, announced that it was a designated warming center on Feb. 14. YES: In 2017, Osteen was criticized for failing to immediately open his church to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.


NO: The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump did not cost $33 million. YES: This is a baseless copy-and-paste — or “copypasta” — rumor that previously circulated on social media in 2020 after Trump’s first impeachment trial. NO: That trial didn’t cost anywhere near $33 million either.

Note: This is an example of a “sheer assertion” — a claim made without any evidence. When these kinds of claims are copied and pasted by individual users on social media it obscures their provenance — or origin — and can make them seem to others like authentic comments.


NO: The price of crude oil was not $25 a barrel on Jan. 20, 2021, when President Joe Biden took office. YES: Crude oil was more than $53 a barrel on Biden’s Inauguration Day. YES: The price of oil was $59.47 when this post was published.

Note: False and misleading claims about President Biden’s policies driving up gas prices started to circulate before Election Day and have persisted during his first month in office.

Also note: The prices of crude oil and natural gas have recently risen due to cold weather, and the price of gasoline — which plummeted at the start of the pandemic — is expected to continue to rise as demand returns to normal.


Credible sources are fundamental to quality journalism. Journalists seek out the sources they determine are in the best position to provide relevant facts and details, including eyewitnesses, officials, experts and documents. Often this information appears in the form of quotes. Quoting sources can hold officials accountable, show audiences where key facts originated and add different voices to coverage. But how do journalists decide which quotes to cite and where to put them? What kind of information is best conveyed by including direct quotes instead of paraphrasing them?

This week, let’s take a look at the use of quotes in several recent stories on the deadly winter weather that left millions without power in Texas. Grab your news goggles!

★ Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer annotations, discussion questions and a teaching idea related to this week’s topic.

Note: Texas news organizations were praised for providing crucial coverage while many of their journalists worked without power and water, filing stories from their cars and sheds.

Related: “'Thank God for The Texas Tribune': Power crisis shines light on local news” (Kerry Flynn, CNN Business).

Discuss: How should journalists decide what information to quote directly, rather than opting to summarize or paraphrase? What kind of quotes are the most effective or impactful?

Idea: Ask students to find a news story on the aftermath of the recent winter weather, either in Texas or in another part of the United States. Have students analyze the quotes in their chosen story and label the source type of each quote (eyewitness, officials, experts, documents, etc.). Is there a good variety of sources? Which quote is best and why? Where is the chosen quote located in the story? Do students agree with the order of the quotes? If they had written the news report, which quote would they have included first? Which one would they put last? Why?

Resource: “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).


★ Sift Picks


“Who Deserves to Have Their Past Mistakes ‘Forgotten’?” (Rachael Allen, Slate).

More newspapers are establishing policies to decide on requests from people asking for previous news coverage about them to be updated or removed. This Slate report offers a good overview of recent efforts and details actions taken by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, which began its “Right to be Forgotten” policy a few years ago, and The Boston Globe. The Globe’s initiative was announced in January, after the newsroom had reflected on “its own practices and how they have affected communities of color.” Globe staff — in a sentiment also included in Slate’s piece — said on the appeal form: “We are not in the business of rewriting the past, but we don’t want to stand in the way of a regular person’s ability to craft their future.” Requests to newspapers sometimes come from people who want their names removed from older stories that still exist online about minor crimes or public mistakes. The Globe noted it will have a high standard for removal regarding serious crimes and stories about public figures.

Discuss: Do you agree with newspapers’ efforts to give people a “right to be forgotten”? Or should all coverage remain part of the public record? Why or why not? Do you think elected or public officials should have a “right to be forgotten”? Why or why not? If you were in charge of your local newspaper, what would your policy about this issue be?

Idea: Contact an editor or reporter at a local news outlet and ask if they would discuss this issue with your students on a videoconference.

Related: “An old arrest can follow you forever online. Some newspapers want to fix that.” (Elahe Izadi, The Washington Post).


Quick Picks

“Olivia Munn, Awkwafina and More Celebrities Call for Action Amid Rise in Attacks Against Asian Americans” (Antonio Ferme, Variety).

  • Related:
  • Discuss: Why are racist and violent acts against Asian Americans worthy of national news coverage? Do you think mainstream news organizations have provided adequate coverage of these incidents?
  • Idea: Have students choose a major national news organization and review its coverage of violence against Asian Americans since Jan. 1, 2021. Were there stories about attacks against Asian Americans? If so, how many were there, and what were the stories about? Share and compare your findings with classmates. If no coverage was found, consider writing a respectful note to the news organization, sharing your findings and initiating a discussion about its news decisions.

Opinion: “Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole” (Charlie Warzel, The New York Times).

  • Note: The SIFT method featured in this column was created by Mike Caulfield in 2019 based on the “Four Moves” verification technique he introduced in 2017. Though we endorse this approach, it is not affiliated with The Sift newsletter. The credit belongs entirely to Caulfield.
  • Related: “SIFT (The Four Moves)” (Mike Caulfield, Hapgood).
  • Discuss: How can critically scrutinizing a misleading or deceptive website by focusing on its details go wrong? Why would you want to know more about a source of information before you give it your attention? What can a quick web search about a misinformation website tell you that the details of the website itself may not? How is detecting false information from a dubious source different than evaluating the quality of information from a known, credible source?

Opinion: “Why using Facebook and YouTube should require a media literacy test” (Mark Sullivan, Fast Company).

  • Discuss: Can the reckless use of social media cause harm? Is it possible for social media companies to remove all false and harmful information from their platforms? Why or why not? Should social media companies “require users to take a short media literacy course, and then a quiz” before using their platforms as a way to combat misinformation? Should they be compelled by law to do this?
  • Idea: Ask students to read this article. Then have them form groups to teach one aspect of the story to the rest of the class. For example, one group might teach everyone in the class how social media companies profit from users' engagement with misinformation. Another might lead a discussion about steps social media companies should take to reduce the spread of harmful content or debate whether the government should play any role in regulating such policies.
  • Another idea: In groups or as a class, have students design a prototype of the test proposed in this opinion piece. What kinds of questions, knowledge and skills should it include, and how will it measure people’s news and media literacy?

“Accountability suffers as newspaper closures grow in SC, nation” (Glenn Smith and Tony Bartelme, The Post and Courier).

  • Note: This article is part of a new project called “Uncovered,” which was launched by The Post and Courier as a collaboration with smaller community newspapers in South Carolina “to cast new light on questionable government conduct, especially in smaller towns.”
  • Discuss: How does a robust local press help curb government corruption? In what ways does a free press act like a watchdog on behalf of the public? What do communities lose when local newsrooms close? Can “‘citizen reporters’” fully fill the role that professional journalists have historically held in a democracy? Or do you agree that “‘most individuals are just trying to live their lives — they don’t have time to live and breathe this stuff’” in the way that journalists do?
  • Idea: Have students research examples of local watchdog journalism in their community. How did their chosen example hold the powerful to account or bring about change? Ask students to report their findings to the class.
  • Resource: ”Democracy’s Watchdog” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

What else did we find this week? Here's our list.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s 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.