The Sift: Social media’s mental health risks | TikTok ban?

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
April 22, 2024

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Teach news literacy this week
Social media's mental health risks | TikTok ban?

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

Top picks

An illustration of a person sitting at a desk looking at a computer with a social media feed and several emojis popping out of the screen, including angry faces, thumbs down, pointing fingers and exclamation marks.
A new report says young people are especially susceptible to social media harms due to underdeveloped impulse control. Illustration credit: Lemberg Vector studio/Shutterstock.
Top pick 1

Social media features like infinite scrolling are “particularly risky” for kids whose brains are developing and more vulnerable to addictive experiences, according to a new American Psychological Association report. Although social media companies have taken some steps to protect youth mental health, the report’s authors say more needs to be done. The report states that social media is designed for adults, and it calls for AI-recommended content on platforms to “be designed to prioritize youth safety and welfare over engagement.”

Top pick 2

NPR has faced pushback for coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, with critics claiming its reporting on the conflict is biased. Some NPR listeners and a former editor have complained that the broadcaster draws more attention to the suffering of Palestinians than Israelis. In a column analyzing NPR’s Gaza news coverage, the network’s public editor, Kelly McBride, outlined underlying journalism principles of reporting on the war and responded to claims of bias. McBride acknowledged that there is more coverage of Gaza than Israel because there is more suffering in Gaza amid a humanitarian crisis and ongoing attacks. She added that a complete picture of the war is difficult to capture with many journalists in the region dead and others restricted from accessing the conflict area.

McBride also noted that journalists can no longer allow their work to speak for itself and need to show the public how editorial choices are deliberated and thoughtfully considered.

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to analyze a news article using news literacy skills.
Top pick 3

Will AI-generated content impact elections worldwide this year as more than 2 billion people head to the polls? Experts say that despite the advancement of AI tools, AI-generated content can be easily debunked and is unlikely to change voters’ party affiliations — although it certainly pollutes the information landscape and can affect voters’ perceptions of individual candidates.

A banner ad announces a free webinar, ‘Why Press Freedom Matters: Exploring Evan Gershkovich’s Case,’ on May 1 hosted by the News Literacy Project and
RumorGuard Rundown
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.


Spate of ‘non-woke’ Hollywood startup rumors spread from satire, AI-generated sites

A collage of three Facebook posts features screenshots of blog posts that include photographs of Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Roseanne Barr, Michael Richards, Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, along with headlines claiming that these celebrities opened “non-woke” entertainment businesses that would focus on “traditional values.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “STOLEN SATIRE.”

NO: Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg did not start a “non-woke” film studio. 

NO: Roseanne Barr and Michael Richards did not create a “non-woke” TV show. 

NO: Angelina Jolie and Jon Voight did not open a “non-woke” production studio. 

YES: These three claims were originally published on, a satire and parody news website that publishes AI-generated content. 

NO: Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington are not creating a “non-woke” actors guild “dedicated to traditional values.”

YES: This last claim was originally published by America’s Last Line of Defense, a satirical news site and Facebook page specifically designed to mock far right ideas.

NewsLit takeaway: Stolen satire refers to a satirical story that is removed from its original context and presented online without an immediately apparent disclaimer. These posts can be deceptive, especially when they resonate strongly with partisan grievances and pre-existing beliefs. The true nature of this content can usually be determined by a quick search for news stories from credible sources. In this case, the creation of a “non-woke” movie studio, sitcom or actors guild would have been major news in the entertainment world and garnered coverage by standards-based news outlets.

Viral posts misidentify innocent man as Sydney stabbing suspect

A Facebook post, which reads, “Do you still want to blame Muslims? He died as terrorist, and the attacker was identified as Benjamin Cohen, a radical Jew from Bondi. Dont fall for far right lies and propaganda. So heartbreaking for those families. Thoughts and prayers with you all. THE AUSTRALIA BONDI ATTACKER HAS BEEN REPORTED TO BE JEWISH TERRORIST BENJAMIN COHEN.” It features a screenshot supposedly showing the person suspected of stabbing multiple people at a mall
in Sydney, Australia, which is captioned “The Sydney Bondi mall attacker has been identified as Benjamin Cohen.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MISIDENTIFICATION.”

NO: The person who killed six people at a mall in Sydney, Australia, on April 13 was not named Benjamin Cohen.

YES: Sydney-based 7 News amplified the falsehood.

YES: Police identified a 40-year-old Queensland man, Joel Cauchi, as the attacker.

YES: Ben Cohen, a Sydney university student wrongly named as the assailant, was attacked by online trolls and photos of him went viral after the falsehood spread.

NewsLit takeaway: Breaking news events are frequently exploited by purveyors of disinformation seeking to sow confusion or push an ideological explanation — including inflammatory extremist rhetoric. Mass shootings and stabbings often attract these kinds of bad actors because they are highly emotional events that spark widespread concern and curiosity, and because details about a suspect’s identity and motive are rarely known in the chaotic moments that follow these violent incidents.

Misidentifying the perpetrators of violent attacks has real-world consequences. Not only are these falsehoods often designed to stir up hate against groups of people, but they also often name innocent people who are then subjected to online harassment. It can be challenging to refrain from engaging with sensational content about a breaking news event, but slowing down and waiting for standards-based sources to confirm details helps reduce the spread of falsehoods.

Pro-Nazi accounts are flourishing and spreading antisemitic content on X, attracting millions of views despite X’s policies banning posts that glorify violence or harm.
Cameras aren’t allowed during the historic trial of former President Donald Trump because it’s in New York, one of two states that restricts video coverage in courtrooms.📸
TikTok might be banned nationwide after a bill passed in the U.S. House on April 20 requiring the platform’s Chinese parent company to sell the video app or face a ban. The bill’s next stop: U.S. Senate. 
Have you seen blueberries in your social media feeds lately? It’s one of the foods that some food influencers are being paid to promote by the food industry, and these posts are not always labeled as ads.🫐
Your favorite Instagram influencer might soon respond to your direct message with help from AI, although Instagram is still in the early testing stages of this AI-powered feature. 🤖
This Indiana University student column offers tips for countering misinformation, like checking sources and understanding bias and algorithms.
A proposed law in California would require tech companies pay news publishers for their content and, in response, Google began removing links to California-based news websites from search results. 📰
Longtime astronomer Nicholas Suntzeff says he doesn’t believe in UFO conspiracy theories because, to quote planetary scientist Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”🛸

News Goggles

Follow Tampa Bay Times journalist Gabrielle Calise in this NLP TikTok video as she reviews a Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin concert on deadline.

Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times talks to the camera from her car.
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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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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.