Misinformation thrives during major news events and can spread rapidly on social media by tapping into people’s beliefs and values to provoke an emotional reaction. Pushing back against falsehoods in today’s information environment is no small task, but a few simple tools can go a long way in the fight for facts. This week, we talk to Seana Davis, a journalist with the Reuters Fact Check team, about her work monitoring, detecting and debunking misinformation online.
Davis sheds light on some common ways that viral falsehoods spread — including through miscaptioned videos and digitally altered headlines — and demonstrates how to fact-check false claims like a pro, using digital verification techniques such as reverse image search and advanced searches on social media. Grab your news goggles!
Dig deeper: Use this viewing guide for the featured News Goggles video to help students examine how to recognize and debunk some common types of misinformation online.
The Russian Parliament passed a new law that criminalizes publishing information on the military that the Kremlin deems “false,” including reporting from independent news organizations and social media posts by individuals. In response to the law, one independent newspaper that has long been critical of the Russian government, Novaya Gazeta, announced on Twitter that it was deleting its war coverage to avoid prosecution. Other major news organizations, including the BBC, CNN, ABC, CBS and Bloomberg, responded to the law by suspending their broadcasts or reporting from Russia. The Washington Post announced that it would remove bylines and datelines from some stories to protect its journalists based in Russia.
Discuss: Why do authoritarian regimes try to control information? Why might the Russian government want to control the way its invasion of Ukraine is described? What impact will this new law have on the quality of information about the war that Russians can access? What impact could this law have on people in Russia? How could this law impact the global community?
RT America, a division of the Russian state-run “news” network, announced on March 3 that it would be stopping production and ceasing operations. The decision came just days after DirecTV and the streaming service Roku said they would stop carrying the channel. Tech platforms — including YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook and TikTok — also recently took steps to block or restrict access to content from Russian propaganda news sources in the European Union.
Note: As CNN's Oliver Darcy points out, major tech platforms are still making Russian state propaganda channels available outside of Europe.
Discuss: Should cable and satellite television providers carry content from state-controlled media outlets? Should social media platforms allow links from propaganda news outlets to be shared on their platforms? What distinguishes government-controlled “news” coverage from independent journalism? How has Russia used its state-run media to advance its national interests in the past? How is it using them during its invasion of Ukraine?
Note: The ongoing war in Ukraine has resulted in an upswell of viral rumors, which we can’t comprehensively address in our Viral Rumor Rundown. For real-time misinformation updates, follow the work of professional fact-checking organizations devoting significant attention to Ukraine.
NewsLit takeaway: Digital artwork often circulates out of context, particularly when it connects with a controversial or highly emotional issue — and the iconic nature of Time magazine covers makes them a common target for artists and fabricators (see here, here, here and here). Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has sparked widespread outrage and condemnation around the globe and prompted comparisons to Adolph Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. This likely factored into the speed with which this image spread across the web, in many cases without the designer’s digital signature — “By Patrick Mulder” — in the bottom right corner. No matter how much a purported magazine cover may resonate or conflict with your views and beliefs, it’s always a good idea to confirm its authenticity before spreading it.
NO: The actor Steven Seagal is not “among Russian special forces” in Ukraine. NO: CNN did not tweet or otherwise report this. YES: This is a fabricated tweet mocked up to look like it was posted by CNN’s verified Twitter account. YES: Podcast host Joe Rogan shared this image with his nearly 15 million Instagram followers on Feb. 28, then later deleted it. YES: In 2016, Seagal was publicly granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, and in 2018 was appointed as a special envoy by the Kremlin.
NewsLit takeaway: Imposter content designed to appear to come from an authoritative source is common during major breaking news events when people are eager to find and share updated information. The involvement of a celebrity — especially one with actual ties to the Russian government — only enhances the viral appeal of this example. This is a good reminder to always be wary of purported social media posts circulating as screenshots with no link to an actual post. Such images are extremely easy to create using freely available online tools.
Maldita.es, a Spanish news and fact-checking organization, has launched a database of fact-checks debunking mis- and disinformation about the invasion of Ukraine. Called #UkraineFacts, the collection not only helps fact-checkers avoid duplicating efforts, but also provides insights into how misinformation jumps from one country and language to another.
WNYC’s On the Media developed a Ukraine edition of its well-known “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook.” You can find it here accompanied by a powerful interview with disinformation expert Jane Lytvynenko. (Lytvynenko also spoke with Kyle Pope for the March 3 episode of the Columbia Journalism Review podcast The Kicker.)
Too often, race plays a determining role in who is deemed worthy of empathy in wartime and other humanitarian disasters, revealing “a painful double standard” in news coverage, Lorraine Ali argues in a recent Los Angeles Times piece.