The Sift: TikTok lurking | Social media rights

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy
Feb. 26, 2024

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Teach news literacy this week
TikTok lurking | Social media rights

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

Top picks

An illustration of a bot surrounded by laptop computers.
A deepfake of President Barack Obama took a team of researchers to create in 2017, but AI technology has advanced so that videos can now be quickly generated by one person using text-to-video tools like Sora. Illustration credit: Golden Sikorka/

A text prompt can now generate a realistic one-minute video through Sora, a new AI video generator by OpenAI, the company that launched the AI chatbot ChatGPT in 2022. Sora isn’t available to the public yet, but experts say the text-to-video tool marks a major advancement in AI technology. Some media experts are raising concerns that Sora could potentially be used to spread misinformation and worry that AI-generated content may crowd out and compete with legitimate news outlets.

classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Use this reading guide to take notes on the implications of AI in news literacy (meets NLP Standard 4).

Five neo-Nazis showed up outside a journalist’s North Carolina home in skull masks to intimidate and deter reporting about the group’s racist and antisemitic activities. Jordan Green, a reporter for the news website Raw Story, spent months investigating the neo-Nazi group and was on the cusp of publishing a story about them when they appeared outside his home. The incident represents a growing tactic among extremists to intimidate and harass journalists. One of the neo-Nazi signs said, “Freedom of press does not equal freedom from consequences,” and Green said he had previously been threatened by the group. Despite the intimidation efforts, Green published his investigation on the neo-Nazis.

Wealthier and urban communities have access to more local news, a disparity that’s widened as local news outlets shutter across the country. More than half of U.S. counties have only one news outlet or less, and counties with an average household income of $54,000 or less are more likely to lack local news sources, according to the latest report by the State of Local News Project at Northwestern University. Researchers note that communities with lower incomes often have less to spend on news subscriptions, which results in a “self-reinforcing spiral of lower quality,” dwindling readers and, eventually, a news outlet’s closure. The report also points toward several possible solutions, including collaborations between local reporters and national news organizations, philanthropy and public policies to support local news.

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.

Altered image features Klobuchar, Ellison with fabricated ‘Defund the Police’ signs

A post on X reads, “Everybody make this go viral? Amy Klobuchar!!!” and features an image that appears to show Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison posing with a crowd holding “Defund the Police” signs. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MANIPULATED CONTENT.”

NO: This is not a genuine photo of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison posing with a group holding “Defund the Police” signs. 

YES: The original photo, which Ellison tweeted on Oct. 16, 2022, shows him with a crowd of people. 

NO: The original photo doesn’t show anyone holding any “Defund the Police” signs. 

YES: The large cardboard signs in the viral image were digitally added.

NewsLit takeaway: An image-based search is a quick and easy way to check the authenticity of unverified or suspicious images. Plugging this viral image of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison into a reverse image search engine instantly reveals that the original photo was taken in October 2022 and doesn’t include any cardboard signs featuring the “Defund the Police” slogan.

This viral image should prompt skepticism for several reasons. First, it was being shared online by political activists in posts intended to denigrate Klobuchar and Ellison. Second, these posts did not include any background information about where and when this picture was supposedly taken. Finally, some posts spreading this image encourage people to share it (“Everybody make this go viral?”) — which is a mainstay tactic of propagandists and others bent on misleading people.


AI voice clone depicts Biden talking about oil smuggling

A screenshot of a TikTok video that appears to show a clip of a CNN broadcast in which U.S. President Joe Biden talks about oil smuggling in Venezuela and in Trinidad and Tobago. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “AI-GENERATED VIDEO.”

NO: This is not a genuine video of U.S. President Joe Biden describing oil smuggling, in Venezuela and in Trinidad and Tobago, intended to get around U.S. sanctions.

NO: This clip never aired on CNN. 

YES: The clip is an AI-generated fabrication created with an app that proclaims it can “make your favorite celebrity say anything.”  

YES: The original video that the AI app uses as its basis is a 60 Minutes interview with Biden that originally aired on Sept. 18, 2022.

NewsLit takeaway: In an age of freely available AI tools, the authenticity of images and video cannot be taken for granted — especially when shared by ordinary accounts on social media. The imperfections in this video are an important indication that it’s not genuine, but a quick web search for terms such as “Biden,” “Trinidad and Tobago,” “oil smuggling” and “CNN” also delivers no credible results for this alleged interview. The account that shared this video gives us even more reason to pause: it has no profile pic or bio, its username is a random string of numbers and its post history consists largely of memes and inflammatory rhetoric. A reverse image search confirms that the visuals in this clip are adapted from a real interview with President Joe Biden (albeit with 60 Minutes, not CNN). Watching the two clips side by side reveals that both the audio and Biden’s facial movements have been digitally altered by AI. 

AI voice clones are becoming a favorite tool for purveyors of misinformation and have already been used to spread numerous falsehoods, including this doctored video of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “praising” Russian President Vladimir Putin, these scams featuring clips of celebrities and this video of Biden seeming to talk about aliens.

A new documentary, Breaking the News, shares the story of a group of women and LGBTQ+ journalists who started The 19th*, a national news outlet that combats misinformation and reports on gender, politics and policy.
A man is drumming up support for a secessionist movement in Mississippi, and among his supporters are Russian propagandists on social media — part of a global disinformation campaign that aims to stoke local tensions.
The cultural and educational impact of Libs of TikTok, an influential anti-LGBTQ+ account, is being revisited after the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student in Oklahoma who collapsed a day after a fight in a school bathroom.
Although the head of Instagram said the platform would no longer recommend political content — including posts related to laws, elections and social topics — Instagram remains a popular site for users to get news through influencers who often aggregate reporting from more traditional news outlets.
Children under 16 could be barred from having social media accounts under new legislation in Florida, pending the governor’s signature. Meanwhile, influencers are getting younger and younger with Gen Alpha joining a growing market and building large followings from parent-run accounts.
What rights do social media companies have to moderate content? To determine the answer that could reshape online speech, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 26 from two cases.
Only lurk on TikTok but never post videos? You’re not alone. A new Pew Research Center study found that about half of American adults on TikTok among those surveyed had never posted a video.
Meet the 11-year-old sports reporter who’s interviewed athletes like Travis Kelce and Michael Phelps — and started doing sports commentary at age 7.
A new kind of AI-generated book is cropping up on Amazon — low-quality biographies of recently deceased celebrities.
Have you heard of Ireland Top News or iBusiness Day? They’re among the more than 700 AI-generated sites identified by NewsGuard that are designed to look like established news sites but mostly contain content churned by bots.

News Goggles

Journalist Andrea Gutierrez graduated from the University of Georgia in 2022 and recently took over a weekly newspaper in southeast Georgia. She shares what it’s like building sources as a young editor and reporter in this NLP TikTok video.

An image of Andrea Gutierrez, editor at Bryan County News, with a wall behind her.
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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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