Teach news literacy this week Journalists win Nobel | ESPN reporter's ethics | Supply chain rumors
NEW: The Sift’s viral rumor rundown is now also a blog! You can find all of the rumors from this year’s issues — complete with filterable tags to help you locate examples by topic or rumor type — at rumors.newslit.org. Let us know what you think!
Two journalists known as crusaders for freedom of expression and holding the powerful to account in countries hostile to the press have won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted in its announcement that Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia are “representatives of all journalists” in a time when “democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.”
The committee honored Ressa, the CEO and co-founder of Rappler, an independent news website in the Philippines, for her work “to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country” amid the Rodrigo Duterte regime. The committee also highlighted Ressa and Rappler’s efforts to document “how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”
Ressa shares the award with Muratov, a founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. According to the committee, the news organization’s fact-based reporting and critical watchdog coverage have prompted critics to respond with harassment and violence. Six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed since its founding in 1993.
Idea: Explore the 2021 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. Have students focus in particular on the rankings of the Philippines and Russia. Then, discuss: Why is being a journalist especially dangerous in these countries? Does giving this award to journalists send a message to authoritarian governments known for restricting press freedoms?
Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to help students consider why awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists is significant.
Recent debate over an ESPN reporter’s decision to share a 2011 story draft with a source prior to publication and to ask for suggestions and approval offers important takeaways on the role of journalism standards in safeguarding editorial independence. Journalists generally view sharing unpublished article drafts with sources, even to fact-check, as a serious ethical lapse. Many newsrooms follow guidelines similar to those found in The New York Times’ handbook on Ethical Journalism, which notes that journalists should “cover the news as impartially as possible — ‘without fear or favor,’” regardless of any interests involved — including sources.
Discuss: In a statement, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter said that he shared the “full story in advance because of the complex nature” of the topic, adding, “It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn’t have done it.” How could Schefter have verified key facts in the story without sharing a full draft with a source? How could sharing the draft compromise the story’s credibility? Do you think sources would try to change information in a story, if given the chance? Why is it so crucial for journalists to protect their editorial independence in the reporting and editing process?
Idea: As a class, connect with a local journalist using NLP’s free Newsroom to Classroom volunteer directory for their thoughts on how to balance accuracy and editorial independence. How do they verify information from sources that they’re unsure about? Has a source ever asked to see a full story prior to publication? How did they respond to the request? Ask about their newsroom’s journalism standards and ethics.
A startup that created 22 fictional TikTok personalities with nearly 2 million followers and more than 280 million video views says it doesn’t want to trick people. But some critics worry about the ethical implications of this type of “FictionalTok” activity. Some characters interact with users in comments, and the company plans to generate revenue through advertising, merchandising and tickets to online events.
Discuss: Are TikTok accounts of actors sharing posts about fictional life unethical, even if their posts and bios are labeled as fiction? What is the motivation to build such accounts? Do you think that the companies and people behind fictional TikTok videos are being as transparent as possible? Why is this transparency important?
NO: The photos of supermarket shelves in these social media posts do not show evidence of a recent food shortage. YES: The photo of full shelves in the meme above was taken in Australia more than four years before President Donald Trump’s administration began. YES: The photo of empty shelves in the meme was taken at a store in South Carolina in 2018. YES: The photo of empty shelves in the tweet was taken in Worcester, England, and has been online since at least March 2020.
NewsLit takeaway: The idea of food shortages sparks a strong emotional response, and viral rumors presenting photos of empty store shelves are common during disasters and other events that cause disruptions in the supply chain or prompt consumer panic buying. Be wary of such photos and seek out trusted, standards-based news sources for accurate coverage of supply chain issues.
NO: The icons on this map are not all symbols for “sitting ships” as they wait to unload cargo at overloaded ports. YES: The icons indicate the location of cargo (green), tanker (red) and passenger (blue) ships tracked by the MarineTraffic website at a particular moment. YES: The arrow-shaped icons indicate ships that are moving (in transit) – the vast majority of ships on the map. YES: Dot icons show ships that aren’t moving. YES: There is a record-breaking bottleneck at several major ports — particularly at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — caused by complex supply chain issues related to the pandemic.
An Oct. 14 screenshot of the MarineTraffic website showing a similar region as the viral image. An enlarged view (inset) of traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows a cluster of dot icons, which indicates ships that aren’t moving. The green dots indicate cargo ships sitting still. Click the image to view a larger version.
NewsLit takeaway: Screenshots of articles or graphics are commonly used out of context as false evidence on social media. In this case, not only did the person posting this fail to provide information about its origin, the poster also included conspiratorial language (“Welcome to the next Trojan horse”). Such details are red flags. A quick search for keywords included in this viral claim (e.g., “sitting ships”) is an efficient way to find fact-checks and links to credible, standards-based news reports about the container ship bottleneck. Another helpful strategy is to click on the user’s account and examine other posts to gauge their credibility. In this case, the user has a history of posting conspiracy theories and other fringe content – yet another reason to view this post with skepticism.
NO: The cancellation of more than 2,000 Southwest Airlines flights from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11 was not due to employees protesting the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. YES: The company and pilots’ union confirmed that the cancellations were due to air traffic control issues and weather, and the ripple effects of having planes and employees out of place. YES: A number of political figures, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, pushed the false rumor online.
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver recently urged social media platforms, including WhatsApp and WeChat, “to do something about all forms of misinformation whether they are in English or not,” calling much-needed attention to misinformation among immigrant communities. New research suggests that YouTube’s tougher policies on election falsehoods were soon followed by notable decreases in election misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, highlighting the interconnected nature of social media platforms.