The Sift: Phony Gaza videos | Fuel fakes | ‘Honeypot’ Facebook groups

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Teach news literacy this week
Phony Gaza videos | Fuel fakes | 'Honeypot' Facebook groups

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Viral rumor rundown

★ Viral rumor review: You can find the classroom-ready slides for this week's rundown here.


NO: The woman in the background in this video of a vaccination clinic in Mexico did not die after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. YES: She fainted.

Tip: Be wary of posts that seek to connect isolated incidents with COVID-19 vaccines. Anti-vaccination activists continue to use coincidental events, including celebrity deaths, and misleading or out-of-context videos to spread fear and falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines.



NO: The video in this tweet does not show Hamas militants firing rockets from populated areas in the Gaza Strip in May 2021. YES: This video has been online since at least June 2018 and was claimed to be related to the conflict in Syria. YES: The above tweet was posted by Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson. YES: It has since been deleted.

Note: This video was also used out of context in a December 2019 tweet that claimed it was footage from Tripoli, Libya.

Tip: Photos and videos of rockets being fired, particularly at night, are easy to pass off out of context.


NO: This TikTok video does not show a barrage of rockets being fired at or from Gaza in May 2021. YES: This video appears to show a test of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and has been online since at least November 2018.

Note: This clip also went viral out of context in January 2020 after Iran fired ballistic missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Related: “As violence in Israel and Gaza plays out on social media, activists raise concerns about tech companies’ interference” (Antonia Noori Farzan, The Washington Post).


NO: The U.S. Census Bureau did not confirm any conflicts or problems related to the number of voters in the 2020 presidential election. NO: Census figures do not show that there was “a discrepancy of nearly four million votes” in the election. YES: The total number of votes in the 2020 election exceeded the number of people who reported to the Census Bureau that they had voted. YES: More than 36 million people age 18 and older did not tell the Census Bureau whether or not they voted in the election. YES: Researchers previously have found mismatches between people who say they voted and their actual voting record.

Related: “‘A Perpetual Motion Machine’: How Disinformation Drives Voting Laws” (Maggie Astor, The New York Times).

Discuss: How are false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election shaping/impacting national conversations about these topics? How are these claims connected to the push for changes to voting laws?

Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is contributing to a hesitancy among some people to get vaccinated. All week, NLP will explore why some are hesitant to get a vaccine with updated website resources, social media posts and a special episode of our podcast Is that a fact? We’ll get insight from Brandy Zadrozny, a senior reporter for NBC News who covers misinformation, extremism and the internet; and Dr. Erica Pan, California state epidemiologist and deputy director for the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health.

Ask a Journalist
Q: What made you want to become a journalist? (Angelina, 12th grade, New Jersey)

A: Great question! People find their way to journalism for different reasons. We know people who got into the business after watching the 1976 movie All the President’s Men and being inspired to pursue investigative reporting. Others may “catch the bug” after working at their high school and/or college newspaper. Some become journalists after pursuing other careers first. There’s no place like a newsroom! We (Suzannah and Hannah) got into journalism because we liked to write, learn new things and help people. We, along with many others, view journalism as a public service. It’s not an easy job — long hours, low pay, tough critics — but it matters and it makes a difference in people’s lives. Everyone has a story and journalists help to tell them.

Thanks so much, Angelina, for the trip down memory lane! Feel free to tweet us at @NewsLitProject or email us at [email protected] so we can continue the conversation.

Idea: Have students interview a journalist about why they got into the profession. Were their responses surprising? Are you interested in becoming a journalist? If so, why?

Resource: Newsroom to Classroom (NLP's Checkology® directory of journalist volunteers).

★ Sift Picks


“The volunteers using 'honeypot' groups to fight anti-vax propaganda” (BBC Trending).

Ordinary Facebook users are combating vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation by creating decoy “honeypot” groups that first attract, and then challenge, those who believe in vaccine-related conspiracy theories. The groups — which have amassed thousands of members — initially appear to promote vaccine falsehoods. People who join the groups are permitted to post false claims and misleading information before moderators then step in to fact-check and challenge vaccine myths through comments and private messages. Sometimes it works: “They sort of swung me round,” one person told the BBC, “by sending me actual factual information.”

Note: This BBC report from Marianna Spring also touches on “moderation challenges” posed by decoy groups battling vaccine myths. Moderators say they aim to debunk falsehoods, but by allowing posts that contain misinformation, this type of Facebook group “technically breaches the company's rules.”


Discuss: A volunteer moderator in the BBC report indicated he felt “conflicted about the deception” of honeypot Facebook groups, which make people think they promote vaccine falsehoods to get them to join. Is this an ethical way to combat misinformation? Could it do more harm than good? What role should social media companies like Facebook play in fighting falsehoods on these platforms? Are these volunteers “doing work that should be Facebook's responsibility?”



Quick Picks

“‘Horrified’: AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza” (Oriana Gonzalez, Axios).


“How AAJA helped shape coverage of the Atlanta shootings” (Kristen Hare, Poynter).

  • Discuss: Why do organizations like the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) exist? How could following AAJA’s guidance improve news organizations’ coverage of the Atlanta-area shootings? What inadvertent harm can news coverage about issues and subjects that involve race and racism cause?
  • Idea: Have students read this article, or the AAJA guidance on covering the Atlanta-area shootings, and take note of each specific practice that is recommended. (For example, put the shootings into historical context, avoid strengthening harmful stereotypes, use careful word choice and include the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander experts in coverage.) Then have students pair up to discuss the ways the recommendations they noted might change the way they look at news coverage.
  • Related: “How misrepresentation in media impacts marginalized communities” (Cassie Owens, The Philadelphia Inquirer).

“The new CNN is more opinionated and emotional. Can it still be ‘the most trusted name in news’?” (Jeremy Barr, The Washington Post).

  • Discuss: Should straight news reporters and television anchors avoid sharing their opinions about the subjects they report on? If a television news personality shows emotion on air, does that make their coverage biased or does it make it more genuine and authentic? Should broadcast (including TV and radio) news organizations have different standards for reporting — for example, the tone they use — than print-based news organizations? Why or why not?
  • Idea: Divide the class into groups and assign each a news broadcast, taking care to create a blend of national network news (NBC, ABC and CBS), public television (PBS NewsHour) and cable news (Fox News, CNN and MSNBC). Then ask the class to watch a 30-minute news broadcast on their assigned network on a specific date and take notes on the number of opinions expressed by the journalists. Compare findings the next day.
  • Another idea: Select two news segments about the same subject on the same date, one from a straight news broadcast on a cable news channel and one from a straight news broadcast on a network. Have the class watch each segment and evaluate the coverage, especially the presence or absence of opinions expressed by journalists.
  • Related: “While NPR throws softballs, the ‘PBS NewsHour’ is showing some spine” (Dan Kennedy, Media Nation).

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), 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.