GSAN: Beware of ‘cheapfakes’ | Taylor Swift disinfo


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Beware of ‘cheapfakes’ | Taylor Swift disinfo


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A chart by the Center for Countering Digital Hate shows the shift in climate change denial tactics on YouTube since 2018 from outright denial of global warming caused by humans to false claims that the climate movement and science is unreliable, climate solutions won’t work, and climate impacts are not bad.
Over the last five years, climate change deniers have focused less on denying climate change and more on attacking climate science and solutions. Image credit: Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Climate change deniers have shifted their strategies on YouTube from denying climate change outright to undermining trust in the climate movement, science and solutions. In an analysis of 12,058 video transcripts from 96 YouTube channels between 2018 and 2023, a Center for Countering Digital Hate report found that this new tactic accounted for 70% of climate denial claims in 2023 — up from 35% in 2018. Researchers worry that the videos could potentially impact support for climate action and influence younger viewers on YouTube, which the Pew Research Center has identified as the most popular social media platform for 13- to 17-year-olds.


The anti-science movement continues to grow in the U.S., resulting in childhood vaccination rates reaching a 10-year low in 2023 despite decades of scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy and rejection of scientific expertise picked up steam during the COVID-19 pandemic as public health became a politically charged topic and health misinformation spread online. To rebuild trust, researchers say scientists could be more transparent about their work, communicate when there are unknowns and practice repetition — borrowing a technique from the playbook of bad actors, who have expertly used repetition to spread misinformation.


One of the many challenges local news organizations face is funding, especially as readers flock to social media and traditional sources of revenue dry up. Media columnist Margaret Sullivan highlights the local news crisis by examining the struggles at the Baltimore Sun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper that employed more than 400 newsroom staff members in its heyday and that has now dwindled to fewer than 100. The newspaper was recently purchased by the owner of a media company with a history of imposing political views on news content. Standards-based newsrooms have strict measures in place to protect editorial independence, including from owner interference.

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Image of Taylor Swift wearing anti-Trump T-shirt is doctored

A post on X reads, “Taylor Swift is on the right side of history and will be remembered for it. NOPE NOT AGAIN!” The post includes a photo of Taylor Swift appearing to wear a T-shirt that says, “Nope Not again” with an image of former President Donald Trump’s hair and signature red tie bordering the letter O. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MANIPULATED CONTENT.”

NO: This is not an authentic photo of Taylor Swift wearing an anti-Trump T-shirt. YES: The image of Swift’s face was taken from a 2019 photograph and digitally added to the body of a person wearing a tee with the slogan, “Nope Not again.” YES: Manipulated images appearing to show celebrities wearing T-shirts with political messages are common on social media.

NewsLit takeaway: Altering photos of celebrities to make it look like they are wearing clothing that endorses or criticizes a politician is a common form of manipulation online. These fake photos generally serve two purposes: to boost the popularity of specific political opinions by creating the illusion that they are endorsed by well-liked celebrities and to serve as advertisements for merchandise (the T-shirts featured can generally be found for sale through a quick search for the phrase). In either case, these political and merchandising opportunists are manipulating both the content and their audiences.

The next time you see what appears to be a photograph of a celebrity in a political T-shirt, be skeptical and do a quick reverse image search to verify or debunk the image.


Viral video shared with false proof of voter fraud at Iowa caucus

A screenshot shows a video from the 2024 Iowa caucus that was shared on X along with the descriptions, “Iowans voting, writing their candidate’s name on a piece of paper, throwing it into the paper bag to be tallied.” It was retweeted by someone else who added “Proof of election fraud on the Republican side. Numerous people throwing multiple pieces of paper, aka votes, into a brown bag. No one double checking.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “NOT FRAUD.”

NO: This video is not evidence of voter fraud at the 2024 Iowa caucus. NO: The caucus does not tally votes by allowing anyone to write names on random scraps of paper and throw them into paper bags. YES: Caucus participants were required to verify that they were local registered voters by showing identification before receiving a preprinted watermarked ballot.

NewsLit takeaway: Deeply rooted biases tempt people to quickly jump to conclusions when they see social media content that appears to confirm their preconceived beliefs. This is especially true when it paints political foes in an unflattering light. But viral social media posts rarely contain enough information to accurately convey complex realities and are often presented out of context and attached to baseless and sensational assertions. By practicing a little restraint and seeking out additional information, such as standards-based news coverage or a high-quality fact check, people can restore the necessary context to viral outrage posts.

In an effort to curb election misinformation, ChatGPT and DALL-E users are no longer allowed to impersonate political candidates, campaign or discourage voting, according to new rules by OpenAI, the company that owns the popular generative AI tools.
Beware of “cheapfakes” — deepfake’s less polished and more believable cousin, which takes real audio, images or videos and cheaply manipulates or decontextualizes them.
Imagine receiving a robocall from President Joe Biden telling you not to vote. That’s what happened recently to New Hampshire voters, except the recording appeared to be AI-generated.
Faced with persistent Chinese disinformation — including about its recent election — Taiwan has learned that teaming up with fact-checkers and making accurate information widely accessible does more to counter falsehoods than trying to ban them.
Experts say the threat to democracy in this year’s U.S. presidential election is unprecedented due to the threat of disinformation spread by a variety of sources, including new hyperpartisan news sites and election deniers in office.
Ruth Ashton Taylor’s trailblazing career as the first woman to work as a TV newscaster on the West Coast helped pave the way for women in journalism. She died recently at 101.
As understanding of the problem of misinformation grows and changes, fact-checkers have evolved in their approaches to countering falsehoods.
More than 200 newspapers were stolen from newspaper racks in a small Colorado town on the day the paper published a front-page story on sexual assault charges involving an alleged incident at the police chief’s house. The thief later returned the papers with an apology.
Curious about the history of modern conspiracy theories in America? Look no further than the John Birch Society, a fringe group whose influence peaked decades ago but that researchers say laid the groundwork for conspiratorial ideas to enter today’s mainstream.
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Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News 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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