The Sift: TikTok news influencers | AI journalism ethics


Teach news literacy this week
TikTok news influencers | AI journalism ethics


Hi friend of news literacy,

Welcome to your weekly issue of The Sift! Below we’ve got our usual offerings, like our Dig Deeper think sheet for students and RumorGuard slides ready for classroom use. We also have three new FREE resources from the News Literacy Project that we’re excited to share — helpful infographics on artificial intelligence, breaking news and news media bias!

Are we missing anything? Feel free to respond directly to this email or send your feedback to us at this form.

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

Top picks

An illustration of a man sitting with a laptop computer next to a robot standing with a laptop computer, both with happy expressions on their faces.
Artificial intelligence in journalism has generated debate over newsroom ethics. Illustration credit: SurfsUp/Shutterstock.

Journalism and generative AI intersect in several ways — news articles are often used as AI training data, sometimes without permission, and some newsrooms use AI to generate data-driven reports like sports scores and stock prices — but there’s no standard set of AI ethics that’s been adopted by most newsrooms. As AI tools have rapidly evolved over the last couple of years, some news organizations have stumbled in how they use them. For example, consumer tech news site CNET experimented with producing dozens of AI-generated news articles last year that resulted in 41 errors. Media experts point to transparency and human oversight as key aspects of the responsible integration of AI into the practice of journalism.

classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on AI ethics in newsrooms (meets NLP Standard 3).

News influencers on TikTok are drawing in Gen Z audiences by departing from the dispassionate tones of actual news anchors and introducing more emotion and entertaining commentary. The amateur news commentators featured in this Economist piece don’t do original reporting work at all, but rather connect their audiences with news from mainstream outlets. One popular TikTok account, News Daddy, has a follower count that exceeds the flagship TikTok accounts of The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Daily Mail combined. Some believe that these TikTok creators can better build trust with younger audiences with their unconventional approach to sharing news.

  • Discuss: What sources do you tend to get news from? What is appealing about news shared over TikTok? What are the limitations or drawbacks of TikTok as a platform for news? Can you determine if news on TikTok or other social media platforms is credible? Can you determine if TikTok news influencers are sharing news or opinion? How are TikTok news influencers different from entertainment TV hosts such as John Oliver? How are they the same?
  • Resource: “InfoZones” (Checkology virtual classroom).
  • Related:

More Israelis and Palestinians have entered the fact-checking field in the last few years, providing deeper understanding of the cultural nuances and helping the public cut through the fog of misinformation surrounding the Israel-Hamas war. They face many challenges, however, including the danger, fear, uncertainty and mental health impacts of working in the region, the sheer volume of misinformation about the conflict, and accusations of bias. Many also do this work without pay. Achiya Schatz, director of FakeReporter, an Israeli fact-checking group, said reporting on misinformation requires his team to put aside political opinions. “Especially now, in a time of war, we have to work carefully to not let our opinions cloud what is factual and what is not,” he said.

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.

Old conspiracies claiming Biden inauguration was fake resurface

A post on X reads, “Three years ago in the year 2021 we had one of the strangest inauguration for a president that I have ever seen. Do you remember anything strange happening on that day?” and features two screenshots from videos of President Joe Biden’s inauguration with annotations supposedly showing visual discrepancies. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “CONSPIRATORIAL NONSENSE.”

NO: These screenshots do not show actual discrepancies among faces in the crowd at President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration as he takes the oath of office.

YES: These screenshots are taken from two different videos filmed by two different cameras from two different angles, making it seem as if some people were visible in one screenshot but missing in the other.

YES: Multiple photographs, news reports and video footage all show Biden surrounded by the same audience members, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

NewsLit takeaway: Conspiratorial thinkers often focus on a single piece of alleged evidence while ignoring everything else that disproves their claims. This post, for example, asks its audience to make a sensational and extraordinary conclusion (that the inauguration was faked) based on two screenshots, while ignoring the hundreds of photographs and hours of video footage that show nothing unusual about Biden’s inauguration. Remember, sensational claims require extraordinary evidence, and this post offers none.

The post also pushes a persistent claim embraced by the QAnon conspiracy belief system, which holds that the Biden presidency is being staged while former President Donald Trump works behind the scenes as the actual president.


Fake images of burning Eiffel Tower go viral

Two social media posts contain images and videos that appear to show the Eiffel Tower in Paris on fire with the text, “This is true, the Eiffel Tower is on fire” and “Eiffel tower is on fire.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FAKE.”

NO: The Eiffel Tower did not catch on fire in January.

YES: These viral images are fakes.

NewsLit takeaway: When encountering posts about events that seem to be major breaking news — such as a viral video or image that appears to show a disaster at a world-famous landmark — there will usually be widespread media coverage. Seeking out standards-based news reports for additional context is the best next step. The absence of such coverage is a strong indication that a major breaking news claim is fake.

Another method for catching out bogus visuals of breaking news events is to look for additional videos and images that show the incident in question from other angles. Genuine events, like a landmark engulfed in flames, would prompt dozens or hundreds of photos and videos to circulate online — while digital fakes often stand alone. But a note of caution: The rise of AI-image generators makes it easy for purveyors of disinformation to quickly fabricate multiple images of the same fictional event, making it more important than ever to look for coverage from standards-based news outlets.

Children and teens under 16 would be prohibited from accessing most social media platforms under proposed legislation in Florida that recently passed in the state House.
Meanwhile, New York City became the first city to designate social media as an environmental toxin in a public health advisory that urged parents to delay giving teens access to social media until they are at least 14.
Mass layoffs hit the journalism industry hard in the last month at The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and the Los Angeles Times, which alone lost 115 journalists — nearly a quarter of its newsroom and a disproportionate number of whom were journalists of color.
X owner Elon Musk is spreading election misinformation on the platform, including baseless claims about illegal voting, stuffed ballots and voter ID laws… but fact-checkers at X (formerly Twitter) are long gone.
The AI startup ElevenLabs suspended the account of the person who used its voice cloning tool to create a fake robocall in President Joe Biden’s voice dissuading voters in New Hampshire from participating in the state’s primary.
Experts expect AI-generated fakes to play a “massive role” in the creation and spread of targeted election disinformation, including fake images, audio and video designed to suppress votes, impugn candidates and sow distrust in elections.
X temporarily blocked searches for Taylor Swift following a surge of sexually explicit AI-generated images depicting Taylor Swift that spread on the platform.
“WARNING: THIS ENTITY IS KNOWN TO PROVIDE PROPAGANDA. CONSUMING PROPAGANDA MAY BE DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH AND HEALTH OF THE REPUBLIC.” This disclaimer would be required before every news story at every news outlet in Oklahoma if a proposed bill limiting press freedoms were to pass.
So-called “obituary pirates” online quickly produce inaccurate AI-generated obituaries and YouTube videos in search of traffic and ad revenue — recently confusing family and friends of a 19-year-old college student killed in a tragic subway accident.
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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.