The Sift: News-literate Election Day | Campaign rumors | Requiring news literacy education?


Teach news literacy this week
News-literate Election Day | Campaign rumors | Requiring news literacy education?


Be news-literate on Election Day

Getting a clear, accurate understanding of election results is often difficult, but for many people this year that task seems overwhelming. Here are three steps you can take to ensure a news-literate Election Day — in 2020 and beyond:

  1. Do some homework
  2. Make an information plan
    Improvising your way through election night information is a recipe for confusion. Make a clear plan and be deliberate about what news and other updates you’ll follow, using these tips as a guide:
    • Pick a limited number of standards-based news organizations at the national, state and local levels to follow, then stick with their coverage. You could toggle between one national and one local outlet on TV, then limit your phone or computer use to a handful of other reputable sources.
    • If you must use social media, avoid obsessively refreshing your feed or following hashtags that can be (mis)used by anyone, including those who wish to spread disinformation and confusion. Instead, focus on the accounts of reputable news outlets and journalists, or make a Twitter list of credible sources and follow it — or use this one from NLP.
    • Related: “The Fix’s 2020 list of outstanding politics reporters to follow in every state” (Natalie Jennings, The Washington Post).
  3. Anticipate misinformation
    No one knows exactly what Election Day will bring, but experts anticipate a lot of false and misleading claims to circulate online. Be ready for:
    • Raw video and photos of polling places, both authentic and out-of-context. Remember that rumors about long lines and threats to voters are known voter intimidation tactics and that “instant communication magnifies political violence.” Think twice before amplifying viral posts about isolated, local incidents.
    • Baseless allegations of voter fraud by bad actors intent on fabricating doubt about the integrity of the election.
    • Misinterpretations of poll data and electoral maps.
    • Fake tweets created to appear like they’re coming from candidates and official sources shared as screenshots rather than links to verified accounts.
    • Falsehoods and bad takes from people you generally trust. With emotions running high and trolls working overtime, some well-meaning people who ordinarily know better will spread falsehoods and confusion. Tune them out and stick to standards-based sources until things calm down.
    • Related: “Uncertainty and Misinformation: What to Expect on Election Night and Days After” (Election Integrity Partnership).
Idea: Have students create an “Election Day information journal” to record their experiences and observations — both at home with their families and in online spaces — concerning news, rumors and updates about the election. What information habits do they observe? How do the experiences of tracking election results differ from one news organization or platform to the next? What pieces of information are causing confusion? What examples of election misinformation do they see? Were they able to apply any of the steps above?
Resources: If you’re looking for resources to help you guide students through this election more generally, check out Facing History and Ourselves’ “Responding to the 2020 US Presidential Election” and the election headquarters website from iCivics.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden did not mistakenly say “Hello Minnesota!” to a crowd in Tampa, Florida. YES: He said this to a crowd in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 30. YES: The words “Tampa, Florida” were added to the sign behind Biden in a short clip of his speech that was doctored. YES: The actual sign read “Text MN to 30330.”

Idea: Engage students’ critical observation skills by displaying the false tweet (archived with video here) and asking them which detail(s) signal that this rally is not in Florida. (Answer: The landscape in the background and people wearing heavy coats.)


NO: President Donald Trump did not call for the assassination of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden while giving a speech at a rally in Lansing, Michigan, on Oct. 27. YES: Trump claimed that Biden would only last three weeks in office as president before his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would need to take over, and then said, “That’s why they’re talking about the 25th Amendment, right? Three weeks. Three weeks in, Joe’s shot. ‘Let’s go, Kamala, are you ready?’” NO: This is not the first time Trump has used the word “shot” in an attempt to draw Biden’s fitness for office into question.

★ Featured rumor resource: Can you find this clip in the original CNN footage from an authoritative source? Use these classroom-ready slides to teach your students how to track down archives of broadcast news.


NO: Joe Biden did not confuse President Trump with former president George W. Bush as he spoke at his virtual “I Will Vote” concert and fundraiser on Oct. 25. YES: During an interview with comedian and actor George Lopez at the event, Biden stammered in the middle of a sentence and said the name “George” twice in a halting sentence about Trump. YES: An out-of-context clip of that moment went viral after it was shared by the Trump campaign along with the claim that Biden thought his opponent was Bush. YES: The Today show aired the misleading clip and uncritically reported on the gaffe without mentioning that Lopez was the interviewer.

Idea: Pair this rumor with the previous rumor to teach students about the power of out-of-context video, especially when shared by influential partisan accounts on social media.

Discuss: Why do you think misleading clips of political candidates speaking are such a common disinformation tactic? Are these kinds of rumors persuasive? Do they have other purposes, such as rallying supporters?


NO: The woman pictured in the top right of this TikTok video is not a “body double” standing in for first lady Melania Trump. YES: It is Melania Trump. YES: Baseless conspiracy theories about body doubles for the first lady have circulated for years.

Note: False body double rumors about Sen. Kamala Harris are also spreading in the final days of the campaign.


NO: The official “Make America Great Again” hats from the Trump campaign are not made in China. YES: Some unofficial MAGA hats from other vendors are made in China (and elsewhere outside of the United States). YES: This has been a recurring rumor since 2015. YES: An iteration of this false claim also appeared on TikTok last week.


On Oct. 26, Philadelphia police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was holding a knife. Wallace’s death prompted protests that at times turned violent. News coverage of the fatal shooting called new attention to the ongoing debate in journalism over when to include race as a relevant detail, especially in headlines. This week, we’re going to compare three headlines on the incident and examine different approaches by news organizations to reporting on the role of race in this story.

★ Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer annotations and questions on this week’s topic.

Discuss: Which of the three headlines do students think is the best? Why? If the class had to write a headline for this news event, what would it be? Would it include any references to race, either in reference to Wallace or the officers?

Note: Many news organizations follow the editing rules and language suggestions outlined in The Associated Press Stylebook. It includes entries about race-related coverage and offers this guidance: "Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent." In June, AP updated its style to capitalize Black “when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.”

Idea: Have students read this piece from AP, which explains the organization’s decision to capitalize Black, among other races and ethnicities, but not “white.” Do students agree or disagree with AP’s approach? Why? Consider sharing students’ feedback with AP here.


★ Sift Picks

Featured: “Student Opinion: Should Media Literacy Be a Required Course in School?” (Michael Gonchar and Jeremy Engle, The New York Times).

This New York Times piece, published during Media Literacy Week (Oct. 26 to 30), asks students to weigh in on whether news and media literacy should be required at their schools, how they get their news and whether they have “ever fallen for misinformation or fake news of some kind.” Nearly 200 U.S. and international students posted responses as of Nov. 2. Brooks Edmonson, of Bryant High School in Arkansas, shared this: “With a class dedicated to teaching students this in school, students could learn to be more critical thinkers and be more careful on the internet. I know I would benefit from having a class like this, and I’m sure students all over the country would as well.”

Note: According to a 2020 report by Media Literacy Now, an advocacy group, 14 states have taken legislative steps to require media literacy education in schools. Florida and Ohio have the strongest requirements.

Discuss: Is media literacy taught in your school? Should your district create a course dedicated to this subject? Do you think school districts should make media literacy a requirement for graduation?

Idea: Ask students to research what, if any, media literacy requirements are in place in their local school district and in their state, and then have them post their responses to The New York Times piece. If students have a strong opinion on the question of a media literacy requirement, encourage them to submit an opinion piece to a local news organization, or to write a letter to their local elected state and school officials.


Quick Picks:

“KSP training slideshow quotes Hitler, advocates ‘ruthless’ violence” (Satchel Walton and Cooper Walton, Manual RedEye).

  • Discuss: This report from students at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, is an example of “watchdog journalism.” What do you think that term means? What impact has this report had so far? (Hint: Read the updates at the top of the story.)
  • Idea: Read the report closely and make a list of all the steps the reporters took to gather and verify the information the report presents.

“Can you outsmart a troll (by thinking like one)?” (Claire Wardle, TED-Ed).

  • Discuss: Does thinking like a troll change your perspective about disinformation? Is doing so a helpful exercise? How?
  • Resource: Bad News, an interactive game created by Drog, a European media literacy collective working to combat disinformation.

“Improving ethnic diversity is the most important diversity priority for newsrooms around the world, a new report says” (Hanaa’ Tameez, Nieman Lab).

  • Discuss: In what ways does having a diverse newsroom affect a news organization’s coverage? Does it make it more accurate and balanced? How diverse are the newsrooms at your local news outlets? Do they reflect the broader diversity of your community?
  • Idea: Connect with a local newsroom to discuss the issue of newsroom diversity in a videoconference or email exchange.

What else did we find this week? Here's our list.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s 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.