GSAN: Misinformation generation | Ballot rumors | L.A. Times’ ‘history of racism’


Learn about news literacy this week
Misinformation generation | Ballot rumors | L.A. Times' 'history of racism'

Get even smarter about news! We’ve given Get Smart About News a fresh look and richer content to provide you with timely news literacy tips. We’ll also provide a rundown of the most widespread and debunked viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and misinformation. When you subscribe to Get Smart About News, you won’t be fooled; you’ll be informed. And we’ll get all this to you on Tuesday mornings. Get Smart About News is modeled on our weekly newsletter for educators, The Sift®. If you are an educator and would prefer to receive The Sift, update your subscriber preferences here

Misinformation cuts across generations

Two new studies tap into the growing interest in generational differences when it comes to misinformation savvy. The big takeaway? While it’s easy to blame others for spreading so-called fake news, young and old alike struggle to navigate today’s tangled information landscape.

A report from the Reboot Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes critical thinking, examines the online behaviors of 150 respondents across two age groups: those 60 and older and younger adults ages 18 to 30. The study paints a nuanced picture of how age might impact a person’s ability to shun clickbait, recognize legitimate news headlines and assess the credibility of websites. Older Americans, for instance, preferred clickbait headlines over neutral headlines more than their younger counterparts, but old and young both overestimate their own skills in identifying unreliable websites.

A separate study released last week zeroes in on coronavirus misinformation and suggests that younger Americans are more likely to buy into false claims about the virus. The study, a joint project of researchers from Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University and Northwestern University, surveyed 21,196 people about 11 bogus claims related to COVID-19. The youngest group – ages 18 to 24 — had an 18% probability of believing virus-related misinformation, compared with just 9% for those 65 or older. (But it’s worth noting that a 2019 study found that those over 65 shared nearly seven times as many false articles during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle as the youngest cohort surveyed.)

Taken together, these studies suggest there are no easy answers or single generational culprit for spreading falsehoods online. Instead, recognizing that everyone is vulnerable to viral misinformation can help efforts to curb its spread.

Note: Not all misleading content is created equal. Claire Wardle and the team at First Draft offer a helpful guide that suggests ditching umbrella labels like “fake news” in favor of more nuanced terms such as misinformation, disinformation and malinformation.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: The envelopes in these photos do not contain ballots. YES: They are empty envelopes that once contained mail-in ballots from the 2018 midterm election, and were retained for 22 months under state law. YES: They were recently discovered in a landfill in Petaluma, California, near Sonoma. NO: They are not related to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. NO: Mail-in ballots will not be sent out in Sonoma County until early October.

Note: In a separate incident, nine mail-in ballots cast by voters in the military — seven of which were for President Donald Trump — were erroneously discarded on Sept. 14 by a temporary staff worker in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, who may have thought they were invalid. The discarded ballots were found in a waste basket by another elections official and the incident was reported to law enforcement agencies. NO: The FBI did not say that the discarded Pennsylvania ballots were found in a ditch.


NO: A Christian group that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is affiliated with did not inspire Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale on which the popular television series is based. YES: Barrett has connections to People of Praise, an interdenominational, faith-based organization whose members are assigned an adviser to help guide their life decisions. YES: The group once used the term “head” for advisers who are men, and “handmaid” for advisers who are women. YES: People of Praise endorses the belief that husbands are the heads of their households. YES: The group stopped using the terms “head” and “handmaid” some time after Atwood’s novel became popular. YES: Atwood told The New York Times in 1986 that the novel was inspired by “a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect, which calls the women handmaids.” YES: In subsequent interviews about the book, Atwood has indicated that a different organization that refers to wives as “handmaids” — called People of Hope — was the inspiration for her novel. YES: Newsweek published a report (original here, corrected version of the story here) on Sept. 21 with a headline that included the false claim that People of Praise (the group to which Barrett belongs) was Atwood’s inspiration.

Note: The original headline on the Newsweek article was “How Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Group Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” It was later revised to “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett's People of Praise Inspired 'The Handmaid's Tale.'” Select passages of the original piece, including the lead, were also changed and Newsweek added a correction to clarify the update.


NO: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden did not use a teleprompter during an interview with José Díaz-Balart on Noticias Telemundo on Sept. 15. YES: Biden was watching video of a Telemundo viewer asking him a question. NO: Biden did not later say, “I lost that line,” when the screen went black. YES: Biden said, “I lost that lady.”


★ NewsLit Picks

Hannah:  “What To Do If Your Family Or Friend Shares Misinformation On Facebook” (Brittany Wong, HuffPost).

Stepping into the role of fact-checker when it comes to friends and family on Facebook can be tricky, but it’s a scenario worth prepping for as more falsehoods spread online. According to the experts cited in this article, the tone and method of your response — public comment versus private message — are key considerations. They also recommend avoiding “gotcha” moments, finding common ground and doing your homework before setting the record straight.


Peter:  “Editorial: An examination of The Times’ failures on race, our apology and a path forward” (The Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times).

The Los Angeles Times' editorial board on Sunday published a “self-examination” and a broad apology for what it described as the paper’s “history of racism” and its inadequate coverage of communities of color. The editorial said The Times has at best displayed a blind spot and “at worst an outright hostility” to the city’s nonwhite population. The problem, according to the editorial, is “both rooted and reflected in a shortage of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian and other people of color” in the newsroom. The piece is part of a larger project at the paper to examine its “treatment of people of color — outside and inside the newsroom — throughout [its] nearly 139-year history.” The project was also prompted by a recent national reckoning on systemic racism.

Note: This tweet thread from L.A. Times reporter Esmeralda Bermudez highlights the lack of Latinos in leadership positions at the paper.


Suzannah: “Maria Ressa Says Disinformation Is More Insidious Than We Think” (Gregory Barber, Wired).

Let me disclose up front that I am a Maria Ressa superfan. Ressa, the CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an independent news website in the Philippines, has been in the crosshairs of the Rodrigo Duterte administration. She was convicted of cyber libel — a ruling viewed as a politically-motivated effort to curtail journalism — and faces possible imprisonment. Still, Ressa continues to be a brave, tireless crusader for democracy and the truth, and serves as a worldwide symbol of press freedoms. This article details Ressa’s views about Facebook and the need for the company to do more to combat falsehoods, while also touching on her approach toward embracing her fear.

Related: “Maria Ressa: Facebook is ‘biased against facts’” (Brian Stelter, CNN’s Reliable Sources).

Note: Ressa is a member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a new watchdog group.

Another note: Rappler is a Facebook fact-checking partner. In an interview with Wired’s Steven Levy about his book, Facebook: The Inside Story, Ressa said, “We work very closely with Facebook and I keep saying we're frenemies.”


What else did we find this week? Here's our list.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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