GSAN: Paid health influencers | China’s disinfo campaign


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Paid health influencers | China's disinfo campaign


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An illustration of a woman influencer inside a smartphone screen holding a smartphone with hearts and thumbs-up icons in the background.
It’s not always clear when social media influencers are being paid for their posts. Illustration credit: Shutterstock.

Dietitians are being paid to post videos on TikTok and Instagram promoting sugar, aspartame and dietary supplements, according to an analysis by The Examination and The Washington Post. The Canadian Sugar Institute and American Beverage, which represents PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, are among the trade and lobbying groups paying influencer registered dietitians to push products in posts that often include unproven claims and questionable messages about nutrition and healthy eating. While it’s not uncommon for social media influencers with large followings to partner with companies and brands to create paid content, the investigation found that many dietitians did not make clear their connections with the food and beverage industry.


A coordinated disinformation campaign by China spread bogus AI-generated content and conspiracy theories online about the devastating wildfires in Hawaii last month, adopting themes and tactics from similar Russian operations. This approach, researchers say, represents a notable shift for Chinese disinformation campaigns, which have previously focused on supporting China’s own policies rather than stoking divisions in the United States. Researchers from several organizations, including Microsoft, NewsGuard and the RAND Corporation, identified the network of social media accounts China built and suggested it may be used for future influence operations — like the 2024 U.S. presidential election.


Should the government contact tech companies about content moderation? Not according to a federal appeals court ruling on Sept. 8, which found that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment when pressuring social media companies to limit misinformation about topics such as COVID-19 and vaccines. The court wrote: “Social-media platforms’ content-moderation decisions must be theirs and theirs alone.”

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No, videos don’t show genetically modified mosquitoes being dropped from the sky

A TikTok video shows something resembling black smoke billowing down from a helicopter and the text “Helicopter Dropping Mosquitoes.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE CONTEXT.”

NO: The video referenced above does not show mosquitoes being dropped from a helicopter, and an additional video does not show them being dropped from a plane. YES: One clip likely shows a gender reveal party, while the other shows smoke being released during an air show in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Sept. 3. YES: Mosquitoes that were genetically modified to reduce the mosquito population have been approved to be released (via boxes on the ground) in Florida and Texas as part of a disease control effort. YES: These videos were used to further conspiratorial and false claims that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates funded the initiative to spread disease and push his alleged depopulation efforts.

NewsLit takeaway: Conspiracy theories are often built on top of previously laid tropes and narratives. A video of smoke billowing from a helicopter may not seem suspicious to most internet users, but those who have been exposed to repeated false claims about population control and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates may be tempted to believe these clips show mosquitoes being secretly released. News literacy skills, such as reverse image searches, lateral reading and critical thinking, can prevent people from falling into these conspiratorial rabbit holes.


Video of art exhibit misrepresented as showing odd new airline seat

A tweet reads “Someone needs to stop airlines ASAP. I will NOT SIT IN THIS!” and features a video of a woman hoisting herself up into an unusual chairlike device and then spinning upside down. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE CONTEXT.”

NO: A video does not show a new type of passenger airline seat. YES: It is footage of an art sculpture, “Premium Economy” by Swedish artist Anna Uddenberg, exhibited at a New York City gallery earlier this year. YES: Airlines have been squeezing passengers by reducing legroom and adding seats without expanding cabins over the past 15 years.

NewsLit takeaway: Removing interesting and genuine footage from its original context and sharing it as if it pertained to a trending discussion is a surefire way for purveyors of misinformation to get clicks and views. Fortunately, these mislabeled visuals are typically easy to put back into their original context with a quick reverse image search. In this case, The Associated Press traced the footage back to an art gallery and received a comment from the gallery owner, saying: “This is definitely not true! It is an artwork!” This false claim may have seemed genuine to some viewers because airlines have been reducing the size of economy airline seats. The idea of odd seating is not new — such as with double-decker seats — but there’s no evidence airlines are going to start using these seats anytime soon. Still, some people may find themselves asking, “If the airlines would do this, what else might they do?” This thinking is known as a slippery slope, a fallacious argument that says the occurrence of one event will lead to more extreme events, and it is frequently exploited by misinformation.

It’s cool to read the print newspaper, according to Kelsey Russell, a Gen Z influencer and grad student on TikTok. Under the handle @kelscruss, she creates viral videos sharing her experience reading local papers, The New York Times and more.
California K-12 students may soon be required to learn media literacy after state legislators passed with bipartisan support bill AB 873. The author of the bill and education experts discuss in this KPBS radio show why recognizing credible news online is an essential skill in today’s information landscape.
As AI makes a bumpy entrance into K-12 schools, some educators are raising concerns about equity and racial bias in the technology.
Wikipedia excerpts are starting to appear on some TikTok search results pages as users continue to use the platform like a search engine.
How do social media likes and retweets influence people’s views on policy issues? Overall, not so much, researchers found — unless they actively used Facebook or Twitter for more than an hour a day.
A mushroom guidebook should give accurate advice on which mushrooms are edible or poisonous, but that’s not the case with a guide recently removed from Amazon — part of a growing problem with some AI-generated books for sale, which not only contain inaccurate information but also use tools trained on copyrighted works of writers and artists.
What Swiftie wouldn’t enjoy this sick beat? Two job ads for reporters exclusively covering pop stars Taylor Swift and Beyoncé were posted by Gannett in a move that attracted criticism in light of the newspaper company’s shrinking workforce and recent layoffs of journalists in local newsrooms.
New York City is often considered the media capital of the world, but less than 27% of NYC high schools have a student newspaper. Students of color address the inequities in this podcast and how they pursue journalism despite the lack of student papers.
New social media platform Threads has blocked searches related to COVID-19 and vaccines, just as a new wave of cases and conspiracy theories emerged.
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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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