The Sift: Sports news void | AI clickbait kingpin

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
Feb. 12, 2024

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Teach news literacy this week
Sports news void | AI clickbait kingpin

Note: There will be no issue of The Sift next Monday (Presidents Day). We’ll return to your inbox on Monday, Feb. 26.
classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

Top picks

The sports section of a newspaper sits among other newspaper sections.
As the number of sports journalists declines, many stories go untold and readers are left without a watchdog. Image credit: Photology1971/Shutterstock.

Sports journalism is more than just game coverage and stats — it also plays a watchdog role in holding the array of powerful interests in the sports world accountable. Though sports content — including sports-focused social media accounts, commentary and entertainment shows — has never been more plentiful, there’s substantially less sports-accountability journalism today.

This pullback coincides with the rise of legalized gambling and new rules that allow college athletes to be paid, both of which are trends with impact far beyond the sports world. Experts also worry that without sports reporters on the ground, scandals and corruption will go undetected and important stories untold.

classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Have students use this think sheet to take notes on the effect of having fewer sports reporters (meets NLP Standard 2).

What happens to abandoned news website addresses? Some are scooped up by opportunistic internet entrepreneurs like Nebojša Vujinović Vujo, a Serbian man who profits from taking over the domains of shuttered news sites and filling them with AI-generated clickbait. Vujo is the CEO of a digital marketing firm that operates over 2,000 websites and has taken over the URLs of erstwhile sites like The Hairpin, once an indie women’s blog; Apple Daily, a former pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong; and, the one-time homepage for residential towers in New Jersey. Generative AI technology has enabled Vujo to create near-instant content, which he then monetizes through ads, sponsored content and backlinks — which are links that one website gets from another to boost search engine optimization.

AI-generated images posted to Instagram, Facebook and Threads will be labeled by Meta, the company that owns all three social media platforms, in the coming months. The company hopes the labels will help curb the spread of disinformation during an election year, but not every AI-generated image posted on Meta’s platforms will be labeled — only images that contain watermarks or metadata added by AI image generators such as Midjourney or DALL-E.

The company says it’s working on tools to automatically detect AI content, but in the meantime will rely on users to disclose when something they post is AI-generated if it isn’t automatically flagged.

A News Literacy Project ad encourages readers to join the RumorGuard by texting JOIN to 1-833-985-5456.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.

No, Microsoft has no plans to disable computers that share ‘non-mainstream’ content

A post on X reads, “Microsoft has announced plans to disable the computers of people who share ‘non-mainstream’ content online, in an attempt to combat so-called ‘misinformation’ in the run-up to the 2024 election” and contains a screenshot of a blog post headlined, “Microsoft To Disable Computers of Users Who Share ‘Non-Mainstream Content’ Online.” The post also bears a mark that says “Fact checked,” implying that the claim has been verified. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: Microsoft is not planning to disable the computers of people who share “non-mainstream content” online.

YES: This claim originated with a story published by The People’s Voice (formerly NewsPunch), an infamous publisher of falsehoods designed to look like news and go viral.

YES: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told NBC the company was working on detecting and watermarking AI-generated content to help curb the spread of mis- and disinformation, including about the 2024 election.

NewsLit takeaway: Purveyors of misinformation often rely on people to accept claims at face value and not investigate flimsy evidence, like a screenshot from an unnamed source, or a supposed fact-check. In this case, tracking down the pictured article reveals that it was published by The People’s Voice, a notorious junk news website with a long history of publishing falsehoods, and misleadingly cites an NBC News interview. But the interview video shows Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella never announced any plans to disable computers of users who shared “non-mainstream content.” Examining the source material and comparing claims against credible news outlets are key tactics to avoid getting duped by these misleading reports.


Texas trucker border protest exaggerated in out-of-context clips

Four social media posts touting the size of a truck convoy in Texas in January and February 2024 feature different videos showing large numbers of trucks or farm equipment. The posts read, “Texas bound baby,” and “TEXAS!!! Truckers are rollin in and rollin up!!,” and “Thank you, Texas! The farmers and truck drivers lining up The Convoy is here!” and “The People’s Convoy Rolling through Texas.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says “OUT OF CONTEXT.”

NO: These videos do not show convoys of trucks heading to the Texas-Mexico border in January and February 2024 in support of a standoff over federal government immigration enforcement policies.

YES: These videos show older convoy protests in different locations, including a January 2024 protest against farm taxes in Germany and several clips showing a January 2022 protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

YES: Organizers predicted that 700,000 trucks would show up, but NBC News counted at least 100 cars.

NewsLit takeaway: Sharing out-of-context or manipulated video footage to exaggerate the level of support for a policy, politician or protest is a common practice of purveyors of disinformation. By removing videos of large crowds from their original context and sharing them as connected to current events, partisans can exaggerate the amount of support behind a political movement. These clips can be convincing, but there are several ways to quickly fact-check their authenticity:

  • Reverse image search. Taking a screenshot from a video and plugging it into Tineye, Yandex or Google Images can reveal important context.
  • Lateral reading. Opening a new tab and doing a quick web search — in this case for something like “Texas convoy” — can uncover verified reports from standards-based news organizations.
  • Evaluate the source. Examining the account(s) sharing these videos might reveal red flags.
A disinformation campaign coordinated by Russia on X and Telegram is pushing the divisive narrative that the U.S. is headed for a civil war due to the border crisis in Texas.
Former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used the event as an opportunity to repeat false claims about his country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Pakistan’s former prime minister is in jail this election season, but his team used generative AI technology to continue campaigning for candidates backed by his party — and many of those candidates won.
Vaccine deniers are downplaying the dangers of measles — which can be fatal — and even cite an old Brady Bunch episode to support their dangerous claims.
Meta will stop recommending political content and social commentary on Instagram and Threads — raising concerns about ensuring the spread and reach of credible information during an election year.
Since November 2020, at least 33 bomb threats or violent intimidations have been directed at people or organizations featured in critical posts from Libs of TikTok, an anti-LGBTQ+ account that has over 2 million followers on X.
The Black Lens, an independent, nonprofit Black newspaper in Spokane, Washington, celebrated its relaunch after a two-year hiatus — coinciding with Black History Month.
Fashion journalism has evolved from the exclusivity of The Devil Wears Prada to a more inclusive, diverse and sustainable approach led by millennial fashion editors.

News Goggles

Washington Post journalist Emily Davies spent months reporting on a 14-year-old boy navigating gun violence in his community. This NLP TikTok video — part of our new short-form News Goggles series — offers a look at how she built trust to make his story come to life.

An image of Emily Davies, a journalist at The Washington Post, with offices in the background.
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Thanks for reading!

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.