The Sift: Student reporters covering protests | ‘Information laundering’

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
April 29, 2024

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Student reporters covering protests | ‘Information laundering’

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Top picks

A photo of the Gaza solidarity encampment on the campus of Columbia University in April 2024.
Off-campus readers have turned to student newspapers like the Columbia Daily Spectator for news of recent college protests, like this one at Columbia University in New York. Image credit: Abbad Diraneyya, CC0.
Top pick 1

Student journalists at Columbia University are drawing national attention for their news coverage of historic Israel-Hamas war protests on their campus. The university’s independent student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator, has steadily covered everything from the Gaza solidarity encampment on campus and mass arrests of protesters to antisemitic incidents. Student reporters’ on-the-ground access has made their reporting especially important as the university has restricted press access, according to the Daily Spectator’s managing editor.

The Daily Spectator’s editorial board also published a critical editorial about Columbia’s decision to allow police on campus to empty the Gaza solidarity encampment and arrest more than 100 student protesters — raising concerns about free speech. Several other student newspapers published similar editorials in support of free speech on campus.

Other student publications are grappling with different free speech issues. Student reporters at Michigan State University have had a busy school year filing hundreds of records requests through the school’s Freedom of Information Act office. State News reporters compiled a roundup of the record requests — some humorous — that came back heavily redacted.

And at Arizona State University, the student paper retracted 24 stories after it was discovered they had been at least partially generated by artificial intelligence. In its retraction statement, the paper wrote that it has a “zero-tolerance policy for using generative AI for any published content.”

Top pick 2

The line between journalists and independent content creators isn’t always clear to audiences scrolling on social media. Individual creators and influencers often engage and build trust with their followers by fostering personal connections and, sometimes, deviating from the editorial standards that guide journalists as they report the news. Some say the two groups could learn from each other to better adapt to today’s media landscape.

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on how journalists and content creators approach topics (meets NLP Standard 3).
Top pick 3

Foreign disinformation campaigns to influence American voters are less prevalent this year than in the last two U.S. presidential election cycles. But Microsoft security researchers have already tracked some foreign influence activity, including a network of 70 Russian-affiliated social media accounts that spread anti-Ukraine narratives. A Microsoft Threat Analysis Center report released in April also noted that China is using AI-generated visuals to manipulate voters in Western elections.

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.


No, Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium menu isn’t ‘completely vegan’

A post on X reads, “BREAKING: U.S. Bank Stadium plans to be a completely ‘Kill Free’ stadium by switching entirely to plant based meat by September of this year. It will also be replacing all ice cream, cheese, and condiments with dairy free options instead. Minnesota would be the first NFL team to have a completely vegan stadium.” The post includes an image of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Vikings football team plays, is not getting rid of meat and dairy products at concession stands and going totally vegan next season.

YES: This rumor originated with a social media account known for publishing satirical, exaggerated and outright false content about the National Football League.

YES: A spokesperson for the Vikings said that there was “no validity to the claim.”

YES: The stadium offers vegan options at two concession locations alongside other menu items.

NewsLit takeaway: A simple but effective practice to root out online falsehoods is examining the source of a claim. Satirists, trolls and purveyors of disinformation frequently disguise falsehoods by making them appear as if they originated with a credible source. A closer look often reveals misspellings — note that the X handle in this example from the @NFCNorthNewss social media account contains an extra “s” at the end of “news.” The account also has a history of similarly sensational and false claims and openly acknowledges it publishes content for satirical or entertainment purposes.

This rumor plays into a conspiratorial trope that people are being forced to stop eating meat to help combat climate change. Satirical social media posts about dietary recommendations and guidelines regularly appear and spread out of context, exploiting concerns about government overreach and infringement on personal food choices.

Social media posts falsely claim Trump skipped his kids’ graduations

A screenshot shows a post on X that reads, “1996, Donald Trump Jr. graduated Hill School. Trump didn’t attend. 2000, Ivanka Trump graduated from Choate. Trump didn’t attend. 2002, Eric Trump graduated Hill School. Trump didn’t attend. 2012, Tiffany Trump graduated from Viewpoint School. Trump didn’t attend.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: Former President Donald Trump did not miss high school and college graduation ceremonies for his other children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany.

YES: Fact-checkers at Snopes confirmed that Trump attended all high school and college graduation ceremonies for his four other children.

YES: Trump falsely stated after the first day of his trial that New York Judge Juan M. Merchan was prohibiting him from attending his son Barron’s graduation.

NO: Merchan had not issued any ruling on a request from Trump’s lawyer that court be adjourned for the graduation as of April 26 and said his decision would depend on how the trial progresses.

NewsLit takeaway: Confirmation bias — or the tendency to uncritically accept claims that affirm our existing ideas and beliefs — can lead people to accept unverified claims over fact-based reporting from credible sources. A recent rumor about former President Donald Trump’s attendance record at his children’s high school and college graduation ceremonies, for example, may have felt true to his most ardent critics, causing it to spread without evidence. But an extensive search by the fact-checking website Snopes cited numerous news articles, photographs, personal recollections and family memoirs to document that Trump attended high school and college graduation ceremonies for his four eldest children.

When encountering a sensational claim online, it’s important to take note of the source. Who is sharing the information and where are they getting their information from? In this case, the rumor was widely spread via social media posts from partisan sources that did not include any links or other attributions to where this claim originated. This lack of evidence is always a good reason to be skeptical of a claim, especially one that involves a derogatory attack about a political candidate.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project describing the “Misinfo 101” landing page, which includes information about webinars, a “Misinfo 101” course and additional classroom resources.
You may have heard of money laundering by criminals, but have you heard of “information laundering”? It’s a term discussed in The Documentary BBC podcast that describes the process of disinformation being planted and spread.
Researchers found that AI-generated content — even images that are obviously synthetic and bizarre like “shrimp Jesus” — are drawing in Facebook users and might be promoted by the platform’s algorithm.
An audio clip that seemed to capture a high school principal in Baltimore making racist and antisemitic comments sparked an investigation and his temporary suspension in January — but it turns out the (link warning: offensive language) audio was AI-generated and “leaked” online by the school’s former athletic director.
Teens see social media algorithms as a reflection of themselves, and they like it, according to a new study.
A new law that requires TikTok’s parent company to sell the app or be banned in the U.S. was passed on April 23 — but it's expected that the law will be challenged in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
A Finnish newspaper removed 551 articles from its archive after an award-winning reporter admitted in his memoir to fabricating sources and scenes in his work — a rare but serious breach in journalism.
An offhand remark by a male sports reporter at a recent news conference with basketball star Caitlin Clark prompted this Poynter column about systemic sexism in sports journalism and concrete steps that could reduce it.
Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Pew Research Center released a new study with a heartening finding: a strong majority (73%) of Americans say that press freedoms are “extremely or very important.”

Editor’s note: This newsletter section was revised on April 30 to correct the date for World Press Freedom Day.
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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).

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