The Sift: ‘It’s corn!’ 🌽 | Hurricane rumors | Leaving conspiracy theories


Teach news literacy this week
Its corn! 🌽 | Hurricane rumors | Leaving conspiracy theories

Note: The Sift will not be published on next Monday’s federal holiday (Oct. 10). We’ll return on Monday, Oct. 17.
classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.
News Goggles
Hannah Covington of the News Literacy Project talks with Washington Post reporter María Luisa Paúl over Zoom about her reporting process. Click on the image to play the full video.

News Goggles is back with fresh insights for the new school year. This regular newsletter feature offers a behind-the-scenes look at journalism and shines a light on key news literacy concepts. How do journalists see news? Put on a pair of “news goggles” to find out!

This week, we talk to Washington Post reporter María Luisa Paúl about her recent story on 7-year-old Tariq, whose love of corn made him a viral sensation. Paúl explains what makes a topic newsworthy in her role as a reporter for the Post’s Morning Mix team, which “covers stories from all over the nation and world.” She also highlights what a story like Tariq’s — who was dubbed “Corn Kid” by the internet — reveals about social media, internet culture and our world.

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.”


classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Use this viewing guide for the featured News Goggles video as students consider what makes a topic newsworthy and how journalists organize their reporting.

Top picks

A single mom in Mississippi embraced multiple conspiracy theories until one day she questioned the validity of an acquaintance’s claim that the Earth is flat. Karen Robertson, 30, shared her journey out of belief in conspiracy theories with a student reporter from PBS Student Reporting Labs. She said a previous abusive relationship led her to these beliefs. “I was trying to make the world make sense, and it was easier to believe that it was a bad place and something was out to get you, and that’s why my life was where it was at and as bad as it was, than it was to realize I had made bad choices.” Robertson encouraged others to question conspiracy theories. “When I challenged my beliefs, it changed my world and it made my life better.”
Journalists often run toward disaster, not away from it. But is it necessary or safe for TV reporters to put themselves in harm’s way to cover dangerous weather situations? This ongoing debate among news professionals was revisited amid coverage of Hurricane Ian, after a Weather Channel reporter was hit by a tree branch.

Viral rumor rundown

No, an elephant seal didn’t wander the streets after Hurricane Ian

A tweet dated Sept. 28, 2022, reads, “son [what is] goin on in florida???” and features a video of an elephant seal flopping around on a sidewalk. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FILMED IN CHILE IN 2020.”

NO: This video was not captured in Florida during Hurricane Ian in September 2022. YES: This is a genuine video of an elephant seal roaming the streets after being stranded in the seaside town of Puerto Cisnes, Chile, in 2020.

NewsLit takeaway: Miscaptioned content is frequently shared in the wake of natural disasters. Social media users are inundated with devastating images and videos, and purveyors of misinformation can easily mislabel old content and share it as new. This misleading video plays into a common misinformation practice of sharing miscaptioned images of animals turning up in unlikely places during major weather events. When a video or photo goes viral that supposedly shows an animal in an unusual place, it can be debunked by double-checking the source, searching for related news items or doing a reverse image search.


Impostor astronaut uses green screen to lie about NASA using green screen

An Instagram post reads, “This was supposedly a video from space, as you can see there is a little bit of green screen theatrics in the back” and features a video captioned “Astronaut Karen Nyberg @ The International Space Station.” The News Literacy Project added a label that says, “NOT NYBERG.”

NO: The woman in this video is not NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg. YES: This video was created for a flat Earth YouTube channel to demonstrate how someone could fake a weightless environment with a green screen. YES: Creators filmed the footage on Earth, then used a green screen to add a still image from the International Space Station, along with various floating objects.

NewsLit takeaway: Instilling doubt can sometimes spread conspiracy theories more effectively than providing any evidence for them. This video, for example, was not created to prove that NASA uses green screens to lie about space travel; instead, it aims to show how NASA could lie about space travel if it wanted to. USA Today fact-checkers identified the woman in the video as a flat Earth believer acting in a skit, which later went viral. The flat Earth conspiracy theory isn’t as much about proving the Earth is flat as it is to sow doubt about scientific knowledge. There still are a surprising number of people who embrace flat Earth beliefs.


Altered video of Trump, Sinema goes viral

A tweet reads “BREAKING: After teaming up with Mitch McConnell today in Louisville to give a speech on Bipartisanship, Kyrsten Sinema introduces Donald Trump.” The News Literacy Project added a label that says, “DOCTORED COMPOSITE VIDEO.”

NO: This is not an authentic video of Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and former President Donald Trump. YES: This is a digitally altered video based on footage of Trump with a supporter from a 2015 campaign rally and a clip of Sinema’s acceptance speech from November 2018. YES: This video was created by a content creator known for fabricated hoax photos and videos.

NewsLit takeaway: There are several ways to tell the video is a fake. Sinema’s head doesn’t appear to be the right size for her body. Her hair disappears behind her shoulders and her shirt and neck are artificially smooth.

The video racked up tens of thousands of views. On social media, some users acknowledged the video was fake but argued it might as well be true because it captured something that they envision could happen. This kind of rationalization for misinformation is a red flag.

You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
An AI text-to-image generator, DALL-E, was recently made accessible to the public, eroding the line between real and fake images.
Meta shut down a Russian network of over 2,000 Facebook accounts pushing pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine, including pages that mimicked news sites.
“We’re suffering from the twin maladies of mistrust and misinformation,” according to one psychiatrist’s diagnosis — and in order to fight misinformation, we need to rebuild trust in institutions and each other, he writes.
The disparity in sports news coverage of two separate scandals raises questions about whether white athletes are more favorably covered by media outlets than Black athletes.
One minute after Queen Elizabeth II’s death was officially announced, The Washington Post published its obituary on her. How do newspapers have these stories ready? This Poynter piece explains.
“Hurricane shark” is a well-known misinformation meme — but this time, the footage was legit: The Associated Press confirmed the viral video of a large fish in a Florida backyard was captured during Hurricane Ian.

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).

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.