The Fourth Estate is essential to democracy, but most Americans — about three-quarters — believe news organizations prioritize their financial interests above serving the public, according to a new Knight Foundation and Gallup study. Furthermore, Americans who believe democracy is under threat were recently polled by The New York Times and Siena College, and 84% of them blamed mainstream media as a major or minor threat to democracy. On a hopeful note for news outlets, 70% of millennials and 74% of Generation Z support subsidizing the news with government and private funds to ensure free access for all, and were more likely than older generations to have paid for access at some point.
Discuss: How do you feel about these poll results? Do you think people are fair and accurate in their assessment of news media? What news outlets do you turn to, and why do you trust or distrust those sources? What constitutes “mainstream media” and where have you heard or used that term before? What role does quality journalism play in a robust democracy?
Election-related misinformation is spiking as the midterms approach. Snopes flagged three types of election falsehoods you should be on the lookout for: claims that there are more votes than registered voters, that votes for dead people are being cast and that some election results are an indication of sketchy behavior by voters or poll workers. There is no evidence to support any of these claims.
Use this think sheet to explore common trends in election misinformation referenced by Snopes and NLP.
Although TikTok banned political ads in 2019, a recent experiment found that doesn’t stop false election ads from being placed on the video-sharing platform. A watchdog group and researchers at New York University tried placing 20 political ads containing blatant misinformation on major social media sites — including TikTok, Facebook and Twitter — and found that TikTok performed the worst, approving 18 of the false ads for publication on its platform. About a quarter of American adults under 30 regularly tune in to TikTok to get the news, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Note: No false ads were actually published to any platform as part of the study.
NO: Philadelphia Eagles fans did not chant anti-Biden expletives and boo in loud unison when Jill Biden appeared on the field before the start of an Oct. 16 game. YES: The original audio for the video shows Jill Biden singing the Eagles fight song along with the crowd. YES: A spokesperson for the NFL confirmed to Reuters that a video clip with the authentic audio was posted to its official social media accounts. YES: Cellphone videos that appeared to have been shot by some fans in the crowd captured a few isolated pockets of boos aimed at Jill Biden.
NewsLit takeaway: Manipulated media is often created with the intent of skewing people’s view of reality. Adding audio of a booing crowd to a video clip of Jill Biden created the illusion that she — and, by extension, President Joe Biden — are particularly disliked. Keep in mind that doctored media online not only contains false content, but also is often designed to manipulate users’ perceptions and beliefs.
NO: This Oct. 9 screenshot is not a real headline published by the Canadian outlet CBC News. NO: As of Oct. 24, the Canadian government health agency Health Canada had not published any advice for parents concerning COVID-19 precautions and trick-or-treating for Halloween in 2022.
NewsLit takeaway: Impostor content is misinformation that falsely uses a well-known name, brand or logo to fool people into believing it is authentic. This type of content is often designed to create uncertainty and damage trust in genuine news sources. This particular example of impostor content also encourages people to view public health recommendations as absurd and unrealistic. Be wary of news items that circulate as screenshots without an accompanying URL.
NO: Boebert did not shoot and kill her neighbor’s dog. YES: A dog that had attacked and killed other animals in the area, including goats belonging to Boebert, was shot and killed on Boebert’s property by a different neighbor on Aug. 17, according to official police reports. YES: The owner of the dog published an emotional Facebook post condemning Boebert for the killing, then later deleted it. YES: Screenshots of the deleted post continue to circulate online as “evidence” that Boebert was responsible for the shooting.
NewsLit takeaway: An unverified claim can easily take on a life of its own, especially when it concerns a polarizing public figure. When a neighbor accused Boebert of killing her dog, it proved to be an irresistible story to her critics — likely because it affirmed their personal biases about Boebert, whose outspoken advocacy of gun rights has prompted controversy. By the time it was revealed that Boebert had nothing to do with this dog’s death, the viral falsehood had already outpaced the truth.
While the dog’s owner may seem to be in a position to know the information she’s providing, she was also involved in the event. This highlights a key difference between user-generated content and standards-based news reporting: sourcing guidelines and processes of verification. Credible news reporting requires multiple, high-quality sources to confirm key details of events. This takes time, which is why viral falsehoods often spread faster than the truth. The importance of verifying even those things you think you know is captured in an old journalism adage: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
When a small-town newspaper in Pennsylvania disappeared, local politicians initially thought they lucked out of hard-hitting questions. But years later, they realized this also meant there was no one left to tell their stories.
Researchers recently tracked banned Wikipedia editors in an attempt to understand how coordinated disinformation campaigns attempt to manipulate the global crowdsourced platform.
Disinformation that begins on fringe social media platforms like Parler and Truth Social doesn’t stay in the margins— it spreads into mainstream platforms, analysts found.
Iranian journalists risk jail time for doing their jobs, but they carry on at IranWire — a “scrappy digital news outlet” with an active network of citizen journalists — and break major stories, such as the police beating and recent death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. (For more, see “Citizen Watchdogs” on the Checkology virtual classroom.)
Twitter accounts dedicated to posting relatable snippets — like “she’s a 10 but cries on her birthday every year” — often adopt a “hot, anxious girl” persona to amass hundreds of thousands of followers and even make money.
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