GSAN: Journalists win Nobel | ESPN reporter’s ethics | Supply chain rumors


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Journalists win Nobel | ESPN reporter's ethics | Supply chain rumors

NEW: The viral rumor rundown is now also a blog! You can find all of the rumors from this year’s issues — complete with filterable tags to help you locate examples by topic or rumor type — at Let us know what you think!

Top picks

Two journalists known as crusaders for freedom of expression and holding the powerful to account in countries hostile to the press have won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted in its announcement that Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia are “representatives of all journalists” in a time when “democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.”

The committee honored Ressa, the CEO and co-founder of Rappler, an independent news website in the Philippines, for her work “to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country” amid the Rodrigo Duterte regime. The committee also highlighted Ressa and Rappler’s efforts to document “how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

Ressa shares the award with Muratov, a founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. According to the committee, the news organization’s fact-based reporting and critical watchdog coverage have prompted critics to respond with harassment and violence. Six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed since its founding in 1993.
Recent debate over an ESPN reporter’s decision to share a 2011 story draft with a source prior to publication and to ask for suggestions and approval offers important takeaways on the role of journalism standards in safeguarding editorial independence. Journalists generally view sharing unpublished article drafts with sources, even to fact-check, as a serious ethical lapse. Many newsrooms follow guidelines similar to those found in The New York Times’ handbook on Ethical Journalism, which notes that journalists should “cover the news as impartially as possible — ‘without fear or favor,’” regardless of any interests involved — including sources.
A startup that created 22 fictional TikTok personalities with nearly 2 million followers and more than 280 million video views says it doesn’t want to trick people. But some critics worry about the ethical implications of this type of “FictionalTok” activity. Some characters interact with users in comments, and the company plans to generate revenue through advertising, merchandising and tickets to online events.

Viral rumor rundown

Photos of empty supermarket shelves are being pushed in false contexts

Two social media posts — one from Facebook and one from Twitter — with photos of supermarket shelves. The Facebook post has two photos, one showing shelves full of food with the words, “Trumps [sic] America”, and one showing mostly empty shelves with the words, “Bidens [sic] America”. The tweet contains a photo of empty shelves and reads “A look at #BuildBackBetter.” The News Literacy Project added a “FALSE CONTEXT” label as well as labels that identify where these images actually originated. All are from different locations or dates than those suggested by the social posts.

NO: The photos of supermarket shelves in these social media posts do not show evidence of a recent food shortage. YES: The photo of full shelves in the meme above was taken in Australia more than four years before President Donald Trump’s administration began. YES: The photo of empty shelves in the meme was taken at a store in South Carolina in 2018. YES: The photo of empty shelves in the tweet was taken in Worcester, England, and has been online since at least March 2020.

NewsLit takeaway: The idea of food shortages sparks a strong emotional response, and viral rumors presenting photos of empty store shelves are common during disasters and other events that cause disruptions in the supply chain or prompt consumer panic buying. Be wary of such photos and seek out trusted, standards-based news sources for accurate coverage of supply chain issues.


Viral image of a marine traffic map does not just show “sitting ships”

A Facebook post of a map with small red, green and blue triangular icons in the ocean waters surrounding the Americas. The post reads “All sitting ships… I don’t care what ya’ll say, things are about to get real. Welcome to the next Trojan horse.” The News Literacy Project added a label that says “FALSE.”

NO: The icons on this map are not all symbols for “sitting ships” as they wait to unload cargo at overloaded ports. YES: The icons indicate the location of cargo (green), tanker (red) and passenger (blue) ships tracked by the MarineTraffic website at a particular moment. YES: The arrow-shaped icons indicate ships that are moving (in transit) – the vast majority of ships on the map. YES: Dot icons show ships that aren’t moving. YES: There is a record-breaking bottleneck at several major ports — particularly at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — caused by complex supply chain issues related to the pandemic.

An Oct. 14 screenshot of the MarineTraffic website showing a similar region as the viral image. An enlarged view (inset) of traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows a cluster of dot icons, which indicates ships that aren’t moving. The green dots indicate cargo ships sitting still. Click the image to view a larger version.

NewsLit takeaway: Screenshots of articles or graphics are commonly used out of context as false evidence on social media. In this case, not only did the person posting this fail to provide information about its origin, the poster also included conspiratorial language (“Welcome to the next Trojan horse”). Such details are red flags. A quick search for keywords included in this viral claim (e.g., “sitting ships”) is an efficient way to find fact-checks and links to credible, standards-based news reports about the container ship bottleneck. Another helpful strategy is to click on the user’s account and examine other posts to gauge their credibility. In this case, the user has a history of posting conspiracy theories and other fringe content – yet another reason to view this post with skepticism.


Southwest Airlines flight cancellations were not caused by vaccine mandates

A Facebook post containing a screenshot of a tweet from Buzz Patterson that says, “Southwest Airlines crews are walking out and so are FAA air traffic controllers. This is just the beginning.” The Facebook post says, “Exactly what needs to happen. Over 1800 Southwest flights have been canceled in the last 48 hrs… employees from other airlines are joining as well as Amtrak. Mandates have consequences!!” The News Literacy Project added a label that says “FALSE.”

NO: The cancellation of more than 2,000 Southwest Airlines flights from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11 was not due to employees protesting the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. YES: The company and pilots’ union confirmed that the cancellations were due to air traffic control issues and weather, and the ripple effects of having planes and employees out of place. YES: A number of political figures, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, pushed the false rumor online.

NewsLit takeaway: Misleading interpretations of loosely correlated events are common, especially when they’re connected to a politically charged issue. Vaccine mandates are such an attractive target for partisans, in fact, that several similar false claims circulated recently, including that Amtrak employees were walking off the job (they aren’t); that United Airlines lost 40% of its staff (it didn’t); and that a recently vaccinated Delta pilot died during a flight (a fabrication).

This is an animated visualization, shared by a data scientist and botnet researcher, of this rumor spreading through influential conservative accounts on Twitter.

Kickers: Journalism slang. The ending of a story or nes report, often intended to leave a lasting impression.

A renewed push is underway to examine diversity in newsrooms — but measuring “real progress is proving elusive.” While some signs point to the vaccination racial gap narrowing, a study found that the reason for lower vaccination rates among Black Americans is complex — a combination of unequal access, historically rooted distrust of institutions and less effective actions from tech companies.

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver recently urged social media platforms, including WhatsApp and WeChat, “to do something about all forms of misinformation whether they are in English or not,” calling much-needed attention to misinformation among immigrant communities. New research suggests that YouTube’s tougher policies on election falsehoods were soon followed by notable decreases in election misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, highlighting the interconnected nature of social media platforms.

A Filipino illustrator is using comics to help teach people what to do when they see false information online. And a new game from researchers at Penn State University called “ChamberBreaker” aims to help players avoid information echo chambers.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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