The Sift: Sports over politics | Staged airline video | Major media corrections


Teach news literacy this week
Sports over politics | Staged airline video | Major media corrections

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Top picks

A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor project underscores the widespread nature of pandemic misinformation. Researchers polled American adults about eight common vaccine falsehoods and found that 78% have heard at least one of them, and either believe it to be true or are uncertain whether it is true or false. The study also found that false beliefs about COVID-19 are “correlated with both vaccination status and partisanship,” and that the share of people who hold four or more COVID-19 misconceptions is greatest among those who trust overtly partisan media outlets such as Newsmax and One America News (see graphic above). The study also points out, however, that it is unclear if these news sources cause the false beliefs or if they simply attract people who “are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation.”
Sports-related news is edging out political coverage in Americans’ news diets — a big change from a year ago. Sports news, particularly NFL coverage, dominated the top 10 news topics in October 2021, according to page view data pulled from 1,400 news websites by the content recommendation company Taboola. By contrast, data shows many of the nation’s top stories a year ago were related to hard news topics, such as “Trump,” “Biden,” “George Floyd” and “White House.”
  • Discuss: Why do you think Americans are tuning into more sports news and less political news than a year ago? Why is it important to stay informed about different kinds of topics and current events? What does a healthy and balanced news diet look like?
  • Idea: Ask students to keep a reflection log of their news consumption habits for a week. What news topics are in their reflection log? What were the most common topics? The least common? Why? Do they notice any gaps in their news diet? How could they diversify their news diet (in terms of news topics, news sources, etc.)?
  • Resources: “What Is News?” and “Be the Editor” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).
  • Related: “Scientists Fight a New Source of Vaccine Misinformation: Aaron Rodgers” (Ken Belson and Emily Anthes, The New York Times).
classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to help students examine the recent controversy over Aaron Rodgers’ vaccination status as they reflect on what sources the public should consult for COVID-19 vaccine information.
Phrases like “off the record” and “on background” are common in journalism, but what do they mean? Poynter’s Tom Jones explains the differences between these two types of journalist-source agreements, noting that off-the-record information should “remain strictly between the source and the reporter,” while information given “on background” can be used in reporting as long as journalists do “not attribute that information to a specific or named person.” (Instead, journalists sometimes use a general descriptor, such as “company spokesperson,” to attribute information shared on background.)

Viral rumor rundown

Doctored photo of vaccination clinic sign pushes false suggestion of harm

A Facebook post of a photo showing a white canopy set up outdoors with a large sign that reads, “COVID vaccines here no appointment needed.” An inset box on the sign reads, “Don’t forget to donate your childrens organs” and is circled in red with an arrow. The handwritten word “WHAT?” also appears in red. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says “DOCTORED PHOTO.”

NO: This COVID-19 clinic sign is not authentic. YES: The text in the white box has been doctored. NO: The sign is not from a vaccine clinic for children. YES: The sign — which actually indicated in Spanish inside the white box that COVID-19 vaccines were available without an appointment — was displayed at a vaccine clinic hosted at a New England Patriots training camp last summer.

An authentic photo of the COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted at a New England Patriots training camp in Foxborough, Massachusetts, last summer. The sign appears in a number of videos shot at the event, including this news report (at 30 seconds) from CBS Boston.

NewsLit takeaway: Text on signs is easy to alter with photo manipulation software and is a common target of bad actors online. In this case, the photo was also presented in a false context, circulating online shortly after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Be wary of anti-vaccine rhetoric that seeks to propagate fear about the safety of the vaccine for kids, which is expected to surge as the vaccine rollout among children progresses.



There’s no evidence that anyone ever died at a Michael Jackson concert

A Facebook post that says, “Y’all Mad @ Travis Scott For Not Stopping The Show Cause People Was Passing Out But Michael Jackson Stood Still and Posed and Watched People Faint and Get Taken Out On Stretchers Without Saying A Single Word, Let That Sink In.” The post continues, “Edit: 23 People Died From Being Trampled At MJ Concert… Triple The Amount Of Travis’s.” The post also includes a photo of Michael Jackson on stage. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says “FALSE.”

NO: Twenty-three people were not trampled to death at a Michael Jackson concert. NO: There is no evidence anyone ever died at one of Jackson’s concerts. YES: More than 1,500 people were injured — 40 of whom were hospitalized — at one of Jackson’s concerts in Liverpool, England, in 1988. YES: Fainting was common at Jackson concerts. YES: One Jackson expert told USA Today that the artist’s team implemented crowd control measures in the 1990s to prevent serious audience injuries.

NewsLit takeaway: Evidence-free claims tied to controversial current events are always suspect and should not be shared until they’ve been verified — especially when they include a red-flag phrase such as, “let that sink in.” This is just one of several false claims that circulated in the wake of the fatal crowd surge during Travis Scott’s performance at the 2021 Astroworld music festival in Houston. Some sought to shift blame away from Scott, while others tried to use the deaths to push COVID-19 misinformation and other falsehoods. According to Snopes, this particular rumor about Jackson has appeared on clickbait websites since at least 2019. 



Video of argument on airplane over vaccination status is staged

A screenshot of a tweet from the verified user Jessica O’Donnell that contains a TikTok video showing what appears to be a passenger and a crew member arguing on a commercial flight. The tweet reads, “I would love to buy this pilot a pint or 5,” and the subtitle text on the video frame reads, “Putting my life in danger.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says “FICTIONAL SKIT.”

NO: The video in this tweet — which purports to show an unruly passenger on a flight demanding a seat change because another passenger refused to produce vaccine documentation — is not authentic. YES: It is a short fictional film titled Covid Flight in which the passenger is eventually asked to leave by a pilot who also says, “There will be no discrimination on my aircraft … vaccinated or unvaccinated, we should respect each other.” YES: A clip from Covid Flight also went viral out of context on TikTok where one post garnered more than 35 million views and 4.5 million likes. YES: The film was produced by a social influencer named Richard Williams, who has a history of creating realistic videos that are “designed to go viral” and often are published without disclosures that they’ve been staged.

NewsLit takeaway: The pandemic has prompted a spate of real incidents involving conflict over COVID-19 safety protocols on airlines, and raw cellphone videos of unruly passengers often circulate on social media — so it’s not surprising that many people who encounter this video might initially believe it’s authentic. This vignette also resonated with people who are resistant to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and safety protocols because it caricatured the “passenger’s” concerns about her unvaccinated seatmate and framed her request for a new seat as “discrimination.” Staged videos that aren’t clearly labeled as fiction have become an “engagement bait” trend on TikTok — and one company has gone so far as to create “fictional influencers.”

Discuss: Is it unethical to publish video of a staged skit to social media without clear labels disclosing that it’s not real? What types of emotions and biases might be inflamed by this video? Does it matter if people believe that this situation is real? Why or why not?

You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
NLP's FREE News Literacy Educator Network. Join NewsLit Nation.
Kickers: Journalism slang. The ending of a story or nes report, often intended to leave a lasting impression.
News organizations that cited the explosive claims involving former President Donald Trump and Russia found in the Steele dossier are headed for "a reckoning," argues Sara Fischer of Axios. After a primary source of the dossier was charged with lying to the FBI, The Washington Post has now corrected and removed notable sections of two articles related to it.
Newsmax White House correspondent Emerald Robinson has been permanently suspended from Twitter for repeatedly violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy.
Dr. Katrine Wallace (aka “Dr. Kat”), an epidemiologist who uses TikTok to debunk COVID-19 misinformation, is doing a series of posts about common logical fallacies that are used to spread misinformation about the pandemic, including appeal to emotion, strawman arguments and cherry picking.
Don’t miss Storm Lake, a documentary about the role a small, family-owned newspaper plays in its community, and the paper’s struggle to survive the pandemic. The film premieres Nov. 15 on PBS.
The Maryland-D.C.-Delaware Press Association posthumously removed the former owner and editor of the Worcester Democrat newspaper from its Hall of Fame after a university student found editorials that were “viciously racist” through research for the "Printing Hate" project, which examines white-owned newspapers' history of stoking violence and inciting lynchings of Black Americans.
Fact-checks work — and two researchers argue that if Facebook really cared about battling misinformation, it would actively put fact-checks in front of people who have seen false posts.

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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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.