The Sift: Ivermectin reporting missteps | Turtles don’t jog | Faulty mask tests


Teach news literacy this week
Ivermectin reporting missteps | Turtles don't jog | Faulty mask tests

Note: The Sift® is back with a new, streamlined format for the 2021-22 school year. Each issue will provide a concise roadmap of the week’s biggest news literacy topics in our new “Top picks” section. The popular viral rumor rundown is back in its familiar format (with an exciting announcement coming soon!). News Goggles will return as a monthly feature starting Oct. 4. And our new “Kickers” section will close each issue with an engaging collection of links to news literacy-relevant stories, studies and commentary. As always, we welcome your feedback to help us ensure that The Sift is as helpful as possible to your teaching.
classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

A perfect storm


Top picks

Widely criticized news coverage involving Oklahoma hospitals and ivermectin overdoses raises important questions about how reporting fell short and how those missteps fueled media distrust and misinformation. Much of the criticism has focused on a Rolling Stone story that amplified disputed reporting from an Oklahoma news outlet. In an “update” note later added to the story, Rolling Stone indicated it was “unable to independently verify” a key claim in the piece.

classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to take a closer look at the Rolling Stone story update.
  • Discuss: Why is it important for journalists to verify all facts and details in a story, including information picked up from another news outlet? How did initial problems in a local story damage trust in other news organizations? Could this misstep from Rolling Stone be an example of “big story” bias (when journalists’ perceptions of an event as a major story potentially cause them to rush reporting, overlook key details or misrepresent facts)? Why or why not? How might “confirmation bias” have played a role in people’s response to this coverage?
  • Resources: “Understanding Bias” and “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).
  • Related: “Confront science misinformation in your classroom with NOVA” (Kara Norton, PBS NOVA).

Check out these five tips to help make the tough task of recognizing misinformation a little easier. Recognizing falsehoods can be difficult, especially when we’re repeatedly exposed to them, or when they resonate with our pre-existing ideas about the world. To help teens meet this challenge, a video advice series called “The New Normal” — produced by The Lily, a Washington Post publication focused on stories about women and gender — recommends taking steps like seeking credible sources with a quick search, reflecting on the influence of your own biases, and educating others.

  • Idea: Have students watch the video (4:44) featuring experts discussing these five tips, then lead a discussion.
  • Discuss: Can false information start to seem true to people if it is repeated often enough? Why? What examples of this phenomenon (called “the illusory truth effect”) can you think of? How often do you consider whether the information you consume was influenced by its creators’ individual biases? How often do you consider how your own biases influence your perception of news and other media? How should you respond when friends and family members share false information online?
  • Resource: Infographic: “How to speak up without starting a showdown” (NLP’s Resource Library).
  • Related: “How wellness influencers are fueling the anti-vaccine movement” (Ashley Fetters and Gerrit De Vynck, The Washington Post).

Use this new Reuters Institute study on trust in news to reflect on different attitudes toward news and the role of trust and reliable information in a democracy. (One key finding: For news organizations looking to build trust among media skeptics, a main hurdle “is not hostility, but indifference.”)

  • Discuss: What are your feelings toward the news? Do you see evidence among your friends and family that people who distrust news media are often simply indifferent (don’t care) about the news? Why might those who are least interested in and informed about journalism also trust news the least? Can learning how journalism works be empowering for people? Why or why not? What are some possible consequences of struggling to identify — and trust — reliable sources of information?
  • Idea: Research shows most Americans have never spoken with or been interviewed by a local journalist. As a class, create a short list of questions about basic newsroom practices and standards. Then connect with a local journalist to discuss students’ questions.
  • Resource: Newsroom to Classroom (Checkology directory of journalist volunteers).
NLP's FREE News Literacy Educator Network. Join NewsLit Nation.

Viral rumor rundown


These “running turtles” aren’t real — they’re CGI

A tweet from professional basketball player Rex Chapman sharing another tweet featuring a video that appears to show a group of turtles running in a circle. Chapman’s tweet reads, “Wait – turtles are fast?” and the tweet he’s retweeting reads, “I didn’t know turtles can run.” The tweets are labeled as digital artwork.

NO: The video in this tweet, which seems to show a group of turtles or tortoises running in a circle, is not authentic. YES: It is computer-generated imagery created by Vernon James Manlapaz, whose digital artwork has previously been mistaken as authentic.

NewsLit takeaway: Photos and video purporting to capture “amazing” aspects of nature — especially those that feature unusual or cute animals — often go viral. After all, how tempting is it to “like” a video of fast tortoises or other surprising or adorable animals? But be aware that these types of photos and videos are commonly used as “engagement bait” by accounts seeking to build up large social media followings at all costs, even when it means passing off digital fakes as genuine.

Idea: Have students search Twitter and other social media platforms for “engagement bait” accounts using search terms like “amazing nature” and “baby animals” — or have them review posts from online visual debunkers like @HoaxEye and @PicPedant. What patterns and red flags do they notice? What can they do to warn others about the pitfalls of “engagement bait” posts?



No, animals didn’t escape from a New Jersey zoo after Hurricane Ida

A tweet from a satirical Twitter account bearing the name “CNN Breaking News” that says, “Breaking: Reports of escaped animals circulate throughout South Orange, New Jersey after the Turtle Back Zoo (@TurtleBackZoo) is severely flooded. Local authorities advise all South Orange residents to stay home until the animals are returned back to their homes.” It includes four images of wild animals in city streets with labels added that reveal their actual contexts.

NO: Animals did not escape from Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey, after remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the area. NO: The account that shared this tweet is not affiliated with CNN and is not a legitimate news source. YES: It’s a parody account. YES: Turtle Back Zoo and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., both confirmed that no animals escaped the zoo during the storms on Sept. 1. YES: Other instances of this rumor circulated as screenshots of fabricated text messages.

NewsLit takeaway: Rumors of wild animals infiltrating flooded cities after major storms are common — so much so that some have achieved joke-meme status online. Cases of “stolen satire,” in which joke posts and satirical graphics are copied and circulated out of context, are also common. Be sure to fact-check sensational claims in the wake of major events like natural disasters before sharing.


Idea: Teach students how to take a partial or cropped screenshot, then ask them to use that technique to isolate each of the four images in this meme. Finally, have students investigate the origin of each image using a reverse image search engine, such as Google Images or Yandex.



Faulty demo does not show masks are unsafe

A screenshot of a TikTok video showing a man and young girl at a school board meeting. The text “Lago Vista, Texas school board meeting 6/24/21” has been added as a caption at the bottom of the screen. A caption from the News Literacy Project with a red X and the words “faulty demonstration” in red font has been added.

NO: The air quality demonstration in this video — purportedly of a school board meeting in Lago Vista, Texas — does not demonstrate that mask mandates are unsafe for children. NO: The equipment in this video — described as an air quality monitor for confined workspaces — does not accurately assess the oxygen levels of people wearing masks. YES: The demonstration in the video did not distinguish between exhaled air and inhaled air, so it could not provide an accurate reading. YES: A number of studies using accurate measurement methods have shown that wearing cloth and disposable masks does not cause people’s oxygen levels to drop or carbon dioxide levels to rise.

NewsLit takeaway: This rumor highlights several key news literacy concepts and trends. First, it’s part of a larger pattern of COVID-19 misinformation being shared at public meetings. It’s also an example of faulty evidence that might seem substantive — until expert sources are checked. Also, this TikTok video’s jump to other platforms demonstrates the cross-platform nature of misinformation online. Finally, it also underscores the power of “confirmation bias,” or the tendency to readily embrace claims that uphold previous beliefs. This cognitive bias may cause people to accept the video demonstration as evidence that masks are unsafe without questioning the test’s accuracy.

Resource: “Evaluating evidence online” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).

Discuss: If you were in charge of content moderation at a major social media platform, how would you handle videos of public meetings that include dangerous misinformation about COVID-19?


Kickers: Journalism slang. The ending of a story or nes report, often intended to leave a lasting impression.

Conspiracy narratives about 9/11 are likely to spike with the 20th anniversary of the attacks — this review can help you recognize them. Hundreds of websites are pushing COVID-19 misinformation, according to a recent NewsGuard analysis. Pro-Kremlin trolls are filling news story comment sections. Press freedom concerns grip Afghanistan. And falsehoods are spreading on Spanish-language radio shows, closed messaging apps and social media. (Yep, dangerous ivermectin claims included.)

Elsewhere: One Tennessee newspaper started telling “stories for and with” — instead of simply about — Black residents. And a new platform called “Word In Black” marks a collaboration of ten Black newspapers to “amplify the Black experience.” (Use this cool, interactive map to explore more media outlets primarily serving Black communities.)


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by 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.