This gripping profile traces one person’s journey into — and gradually away from — QAnon, a sprawling system of conspiratorial beliefs that spread rapidly during the pandemic. The NBC News story follows Justin, whose last name is withheld for privacy, and explores how his growing online obsession with QAnon led him to march to the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. But what he saw there marked a turning point, and Justin said he no longer believes “that the world is part of one big conspiracy.” (Be advised: This story, by senior reporter Brandy Zadrozny — who covers misinformation, extremism and the internet — includes unsettling details about QAnon and conspiracy theory beliefs.)
Discuss: What makes people vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking? How did Justin first become engaged with the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory movement? What made him start “seeing conspiracies everywhere”? What real-world consequences resulted from his QAnon obsession? What happened to Justin’s relationships as he became more consumed with online conspiracy theories? How might learning about Justin’s “experience falling down the QAnon rabbit hole” help others?
Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to help students examine Justin's experience breaking away from the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.
Global concerns about “fake news” are at an all-time high, according to an annual survey that has studied trust in major societal institutions for more than two decades. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 76% of respondents worried about so-called fake news or false information “being used as a weapon.” These growing concerns are one key finding from the global report, which also found that trust is declining more broadly in the government and media, with nearly half of respondents seeing the two institutions as dividing forces in society.
Discuss: How can false information be used as a weapon? Can exacerbating distrust in institutions also be used as a weapon? What characteristics make a source of information trustworthy? What role does trust play in a democracy? Do you agree that when distrust is society’s default tendency, “we lack the ability to debate or collaborate”? Why are productive, respectful debates and collaborations important?
Idea: The report also found that two-thirds of respondents worry that journalists and reporters “are purposely trying to mislead people.” As a class, connect with a local journalist using NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom volunteer directory for their thoughts on declining trust in journalists. How much of the decline in trust is merited, and how much stems from politicians and other agenda-driven critics unfairly villainizing the press? What standards do professional journalists follow to ensure news reports are as accurate and fair as possible?
NO: Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not test positive for COVID-19. YES: Musician Ted Nugent posted a screenshot on Facebook of a CNBC report that includes a digitally fabricated headline. YES: An NBC spokesperson confirmed to the News Literacy Project that “CNBC.com has not published an article with that headline.” YES: CNBC did publish a report (archived here) by Kevin Breuninger at 10:55 a.m. EST on Jan. 18, but the headline was “Supreme Court’s Gorsuch refused to wear mask despite request over Sotomayor’s Covid concerns, report says.”
NewsLit takeaway: Screenshots of news reports or other webpages should always be viewed with skepticism, especially when they are presented without a direct link to the story as “evidence” for a controversial or sensational claim. It’s also important to consider the reputation of the source of such claims. Ted Nugent has a history of making outrageous, hyperpartisan statements, including many that are false. He also has previously sharedmisinformationonline (and has become a target of falseclaims himself). This post is a good reminder of how easy it is to change text in digital images with simple editing tools.
NO: The actor Sylvester Stallone did not wear a t-shirt that disparaged “woke” people, COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden as “4 useless things.” YES: This is a doctored copy of a stock photo in which Stallone is wearing a plain dark t-shirt.
NewsLit takeaway: Digitally manipulating photos of celebrities to make it look like they endorse a provocative political message — often on t-shirts — is extremely common. Such posts are designed to resonate with people who have strong partisan views and may share the image without pausing to consider whether it’s authentic. It’s also likely that some of these fakes are marketing ploys to boost sales of t-shirts that are easily found for sale online. For example, this reply to an influential Twitter account includes the same doctored image and a link to a product page where the shirt can be purchased.
NO: The photo in this tweet does not show crowds protesting COVID-19 regulations in the Netherlands. YES: It shows protests opposing government plans to increase gas production in the Groningen gas field, possibly doubling its output. YES: Video of the Jan. 15 Groningen gas protest also circulated out of context with the same false claim. YES: Thousands of people gathered in Amsterdam on Jan. 16 in a separate protest against COVID-19 regulations.
NewsLit takeaway: Photos of large crowds are often used out of context (see here, here, here, here and here) to exaggerate the public’s response to a given news event or cause. In fact, this is such a common tactic that it has become a satirical misinformation meme online. Similar to astroturfing campaigns, these tricks of context distort perceptions of public sentiment in an effort to manipulate others.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
Not only has Russia amassed some 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, it’s also waging a disinformation war designed to “rationalize” its actions to its citizens and the international community.
Being capable of “civilly working through … disagreements” may be more fundamental to a healthy democracy than fact-checking efforts that aspire to establish a shared set of facts, argues one social scientist.
A new study found that racial justice protests in the wake of the 2020 killing of George Floyd influenced local reporting on policing. Local crime coverage across three newspapers in cities with high-profile police killings subsequently included more in-depth reporting, less dehumanizing language and more inclusive sourcing.
To mark Politico’s 15th anniversary, the news organization’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Matt Wuerker reflected on some of his favorite cartoons across more than a decade of “seismic changes” in American politics. Which are your favorites?