The Sift: ‘Pink slime’ sites | Fact-checking fact-checkers

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
April 8, 2024

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Teach news literacy this week
‘Pink slime’ sites | Fact-checking fact-checkers

Dig Deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

Top picks

An illustration of the front page of a news site with pink goo over it to represent pink slime journalism.
Pink slime publications pose as local news but tend to be partisan and often lack transparency about special interest funding. Illustration credit: The News Literacy Project.
Top pick 1

Pink slime sites masquerading as local news are spreading ahead of this year’s presidential election. The number of partisan pink slime sites (1,197) posing as local news but lacking the ethics of legitimate news organizations is now nearly equivalent (link warning: language) to the number of real local news sites in the U.S. (1,200), according to misinformation watchdog NewsGuard. This Philadelphia Inquirer piece highlights a local pink slime site that had 18 stories on its home page — 14 of which were dedicated to the accomplishments of a single state legislator. With the rise of generative AI technology, pink slime sites can create content quickly, spew misinformation and advance partisan agendas — especially in places that lack local news. The phrase “pink slime” comes from the cheap filler byproduct used in meat processing to resemble meat, which can fool consumers.

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on how pink slime outlets masquerade as local news (meets NLP Standard 3).
Top pick 2

Who fact-checks the fact-checkers? The answer: everyone. This USA Today opinion piece spotlights how transparency is paramount for fact-checkers and how its fact-check team relies on primary sources, experts, quality datasets and more. Fact checks often have a variety of links to show readers the original claim being investigated and the sources used to verify information. The goal, according to USA Today’s lead fact-check editor Eric Litke, is to invite readers to replicate fact-checkers’ work so they can confirm findings for themselves.

Top pick 3

New York City’s AI chatbot for small business owners has been providing inaccurate information — and even encouraging users to break the law. Joint reporting by The Markup, a tech news site, and the nonprofit newsroom The City found that the city’s chatbot gave inconsistent and incorrect answers to basic questions about work and housing policy. For example, when asked about the minimum wage, the bot replied by stating that it’s $15 an hour in New York City, when it’s actually $16, and linked to an outdated city website. Powered by Microsoft’s AI service, the chatbot is still available for use, although a disclaimer was added to warn users about inaccuracies and not to rely on its responses for legal or professional advice.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project presents Misinfo 101, a webpage for educators. It says, “Help students steer clear of misinformation” and lists the following: webinars, course, resources. The URL for the web page is
RumorGuard Rundown
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.


Image of satanic-themed McDonald’s Happy Meal is AI-generated fake

A post on X reads, “New McDonald’s Happy Meal Your kids will LoVe it” and features an image showing the word “Baphomet” on a what appears to be a Happy Meal box next to a red and black figurine of a horned beast with wings. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “AI-GENERATED IMAGE.”

NO: McDonald’s is not selling a satanic Happy Meal featuring a special “fiery” sandwich on black hamburger buns.

NO: McDonald’s Happy Meals do not include as the toy a figurine of Baphomet — a symbol often associated with satanic or occult imagery.

YES: This is an AI-generated image.

NewsLit takeaway: False accusations that politicians, companies or other organizations are engaged in satanism are nothing new, but generative AI tools have made it easier to spread these falsehoods using convincing, photo-realistic synthetic images. These AI-generated fakes, coupled with fear-mongering falsehoods, can create a convincing package that could deceive unsuspecting people scrolling through their feeds.

While AI images are getting more realistic, there are simple ways to check the authenticity of visuals you encounter.

First, consider the source. In this case, this image originated with an account that frequently posts fabricated content and subsequently admitted that the image was a joke. Second, consider where this image likely would have originated if it were real. A perusal of McDonald’s social media accounts and website yields no matches. Lastly, check for evidence that could support the claim. Searching for “McDonald’s” and “satanic happy meal” doesn’t turn up any standards-based news coverage of what would be a highly controversial product choice.


False claims spread that Biden made Easter a ‘Transgender Day of Visibility’

An X post from the Gateway Pundit reads “Biden Issues White House Proclamation Declaring EASTER to be ‘Transgender Day of Visibility’ and features an image of President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and a person dressed in an Easter Bunny costume at a White House event. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MISLEADING.”

NO: President Joe Biden did not declare Easter Sunday to be the Transgender Day of Visibility as an insult to Christians.

YES: The International Transgender Day of Visibility began in 2009 and has been observed annually on March 31 since then.

YES: The date of Easter changes from year to year because it is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

YES: Biden issued a statement honoring Easter and held the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.

NewsLit takeaway: Misinformation often proves most effective when it hews close to truth. President Joe Biden did, for example, issue a proclamation to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, 2024, which also happened to fall on the same day as Easter Sunday this year. But this coincidence was presented on social media as if Biden intentionally determined that the holidays should overlap, or that he ignored Easter to focus on the transgender observance.

When we can look past sensational social media claims and gather important context, we can make more accurate assessments of current events.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project announces that Checkology is a Webby Award nominee and asks readers to vote for Checkology. The URL for the web page to vote is
Local news outlets in the path of totality are covering the solar eclipse with “creative, community-rooted stories” from many angles. The Dallas Morning News, for example, has 60 journalists covering the eclipse and even offers an eclipse Spotify playlist. ⚫
Some Tennessee lawmakers expressed fear of “chemtrails” — a conspiracy theory that falsely claims that airplanes spread chemicals to control people, climate or weather — in a recently passed bill to prevent geoengineering.
Does YouTube enforce its own policies concerning ads that promote election misinformation? Two rights groups tested the platform’s enforcement by submitting 48 ads with disinformation about India’s upcoming election. All were approved. 📺
China’s disinformation tactics aiming at sowing political divisions in the U.S. ahead of the presidential election are mirroring Russia’s 2016 efforts, with researchers finding Chinese accounts posing as American voters and pushing anti-American messages. 🖥️
It may feel like polarizing times, but Americans generally agree on fundamental rights like the freedom of speech (90%) and freedom of the press (77%), according to a new poll. 📣
A Kansas newspaper raided by police last year filed a federal suit against local authorities involved in the raid. The paper’s editor said it was their “duty to democracy” to challenge officials’ actions. 📰
Colorado politics reporter Sandra Fish was kicked out of a major political event because a local party chair found her “current reporting to be very unfair.” Critics say removing Fish was a violation of press freedoms and the First Amendment.
The University of Denver’s student newspaper has resurrected its print version after four years of being a digital-only publication — and its editors say students are enjoying holding a physical format instead of following a link.
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Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Susan Minichiello (@susanmini), Dan Evon (@danieljevon), Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill). It is edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane) and Lourdes Venard (@lourdesvenard).

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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