Several factors play into why people share misinformation, “including the very basic desire to fit in and not to be excluded,” according to researcher Matthew Asher Lawson. (Illustration credit: Shutterstock)
Why do people share misinformation online? The answer is complex, but new research published by the American Psychological Association found that peer pressure and conformity are motivating factors. Researchers initially collected data on more than 50,000 pairs of Twitter users in the same social circles between August and December 2020 and found that users who did not conform and share the same fake stories as other group members faced social costs, including less social interaction with group members over time.
Discuss: What do you think of this study’s results? Do you ever share content online to avoid feeling excluded? How does the desire to fit in socially drive people to share misinformation online? What other factors lead people to share or believe misinformation?
Idea: Have students examine their own social media posts. Do they ever share news stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok? If so, what kind of stories do they share? What motivates them to share these stories? Accuracy? Ideology? Do their peers share similar stories? How can echo chambers — where only information supporting a given belief is shared — be harmful?
Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on the role social pressure plays in the spread of misinformation online.
Public officials, U.S. Capitol Police and media experts are calling out Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson for spreading misinformation about the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by falsely portraying the attack as “mostly peaceful chaos.” Carlson recently released security footage of the attack — provided to him exclusively by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — and falsely told his viewers that Jan. 6 was “neither an insurrection nor deadly.” This sparked widespread pushback that the cherry-picked clips failed “to provide context about the chaos and violence” of the day’s events, according to a memo by Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger.
Discuss: What’s the difference between an opinion commentator and a news reporter? What are some basic ethical guidelines that standards-based news organizations follow when reporting the news or sharing their opinions on the news? How does disinformation affect democracy? How can you detect mis- and disinformation?
Idea: Divide students in small groups and ask them to discuss what they’ve heard about the Jan. 6 attack. Then, ask students to share their news sources. Did they hear about Jan. 6 on social media, through family or friends, in a newspaper or on a TV network? How can they verify their information? Why do falsehoods about the Jan. 6 attack continue to spread?
Another idea: Use this lesson from PBS NewsHour Classroom to further explore the NewsHour segment about Fox News spreading misinformation about Jan. 6.
An all-woman panel aired in Afghanistan on TOLOnews to mark International Women's Day on March 8 — a rarity since more than 75% of Afghan women journalists lost their jobs after the Taliban returned to power in the country in 2021. In the broadcast, the panelists discussed girls’ education and women’s right to work.
Discuss: Why did so many Afghan women journalists lose their jobs? How do social and political systems affect press freedoms? How would you define “freedom of the press”? What role does a free press play in a democracy? Which countries do you think have a high degree of press freedom? What about the lowest?
Idea: Watch this three-minute Voice of America video on why a TOLOnews journalist fled Afghanistan. What repercussions did she and her family face when she was a working journalist? What challenges did she face after they fled to Pakistan? What message did the International Women’s Media Foundation spokeswoman have for the global community?
YES: The “15-minute city” is an urban planning concept that aims to place most essential services — such as grocery stores, workplaces, restaurants, entertainment, healthcare and public transportation — within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from residents’ homes. NO: There is no conspiracy to use 15-minute city design to limit people’s freedom of movement. NO: Residents in Ottawa, Canada, and Oxford, England, where 15-minute city planning principles have been adopted, are not restricted from traveling more than 15 minutes from their homes.
NewsLit takeaway: Conspiracy theories often flourish because they tap into social anxieties. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, government actions encouraging face masks and COVID-19 vaccinations led to conspiratorial and false claims that the pandemic had been planned in order to restrict people’s freedoms, a common trope among conspiracy theorists.
When the concept of the 15-minute city began gaining more interest following the pandemic and into 2023, with coverage in national publications, online trolls were quick to latch their conspiratorial claims of government overreach onto this reality. They created a new viral conversation with baseless claims that governments were imposing restrictions on where people could travel outside their homes. Remember, conspiracy theorists catastrophize trending topics by making exaggerated and untrue claims. Sticking to standards-based news outlets helps avoid conspiratorial rabbit holes.
NO: This video of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calling NBA player Ja Morant’s behavior “thuggish” and announcing his indefinite suspension is not genuine. YES: This viral clip was made by adding fabricated audio to authentic footage of Silver at a February press conference for the NBA All-Star Game. YES: The Memphis Grizzlies suspended Morant after the incident and the NBA announced that it was investigating the matter. YES: This video originated with a satirical account.
Viewers should always be wary of sensational content, especially posts that connect to trending news stories, and double-check claims circulating on social media. Opening up a new tab and performing a quick web search can help authenticate or debunk videos like these.
Worried about ChatGPT? These educators say there’s no need to fear the text-generating artificial intelligence tool — and suggest incorporating it into media literacy lessons instead.
Generative AI tools are aplenty. There’s DALL-E for images, ChatGPT for texts and RadioGPT for… radio? Launched by media company Futuri, RadioGPT generates scripts and uses AI-generated on-air personalities to deliver broadcasts.
A BBC investigation found that hundreds of previously banned Twitter accounts have been spreading hate speech and misinformation since being reinstated under billionaire Elon Musk’s ownership of the platform.
Seven news organizations in Sacramento, California, are working in a collaborative called Solving Sacramento, which has published more than 80 stories covering affordable housing and homelessness since it launched last year.
How would you define “woke”? Turns out the politically charged word has multiple definitions, depending on the context, and one poll found that a majority of Americans view the word positively.
A majority of millennials and members of Generation Z pay for or donate to news, although they are most likely to pay for newer media formats like email newsletters and audio or video content from independent creators (47%) than traditional news sources like newspapers (22%), according to an illuminating new report by the Media Insight Project.