GSAN: Solar eclipse rumors | Royal photo fiasco

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week in news literacy
March 19, 2024

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Solar eclipse rumors | Royal photo fiasco

Note: There will be no Get Smart About News issue on March 26 due to spring break. We’ll return to your inbox on April 2.

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A screenshot of an Associated Press photo kill notification shows a red circle with a line marked over what proved to be an edited photo of Catherine, Princess of Wales, sitting beside her three children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. A note to editors and librarians says to kill the image in their systems because “it appears that the source has manipulated the image.” Below the note is a zoomed-in look at Princess Charlotte’s left sleeve, which was partially missing.
The Associated Press was one of several news agencies that removed a photo of Catherine, Princess of Wales, with her children. Image credit: The Associated Press.

Several major news agencies removed a photo of Catherine, the Princess of Wales, with her children after it appeared the photo, issued on March 10, had been manipulated. The Associated Press explained that the organization “does not use altered or digitally manipulated images” and the photo didn’t meet editorial standards. AP issued a rare “photo kill” notification — which instructed news organizations who use AP material to remove the photo from their systems.

A day after the photo was released, the princess claimed responsibility for manipulating the image and apologized for “any confusion” caused by its release. The image was the first official photo of the princess since she retreated from public duties after getting surgery two months ago. Conspiracy theories about her condition and whereabouts have flourished online during her absence, which is expected to last into April.

Will TikTok be banned in the U.S.? The House of Representatives passed legislation on March 13 that would require the platform’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, to find a buyer in six months or face a nationwide ban. Proponents of the bill cite national security concerns, saying the app could be weaponized by the Chinese government. Opponents say a TikTok ban would violate First Amendment rights for the 170 million Americans who use the video platform. The bill still needs to pass in the Senate; if it does, President Joe Biden has said he would sign it into law.

Journalists using AI revealed it in Pulitzer Prize submissions this year — the first time an AI disclosure was required for the most prestigious award in American journalism. Out of 45 Pulitzer finalists, five indicated that they had used AI technology during the process of news reporting. The AI disclosure requirement is an indication of a broader shift in journalism toward acceptance of AI tools being used in the process of researching and reporting news stories.

A News Literacy Project ad encourages readers to join the RumorGuard by texting JOIN to 1-833-985-5456.

Solar eclipse prompts spate of end-times rumors

A screenshot of a TikTok video contains the text, “YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP! An eclipse was the sign that God gave Nineveh of their impending judgment. The path of the April 8th US eclipse passes directly over these towns!” and lists eight towns named Nineveh. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “CONSPIRATORIAL NONSENSE.”

NO: The path of a total solar eclipse on April 8 will not pass through eight cities named Nineveh.

YES: Just two such cities named Nineveh — in Indiana and Ohio — will experience the total solar eclipse, which obscures the sun.

YES: Nineveh is a city named in the Bible and is frequently referenced in conspiratorial claims about the apocalypse.

NewsLit takeaway: Searching for coincidences is a surefire way to find them. And when the facts don’t fit perfectly, conspiracy theorists sometimes simply invent their own.

Conspiratorial thinking often involves false connections that may seem “mind-blowing,” as expressed in the video, but those connections quickly fall apart upon further scrutiny, like the claim about a total eclipse passing through eight cities named Nineveh. Conspiracy theories flourish when they touch on topics not everyone fully understands, and people can be more susceptible to embracing false explanations.

As April 8 approaches, expect to see more conspiratorial rumors. Grifters, conspiracy theorists and purveyors of disinformation frequently target events that draw widespread attention, especially when those events are rare or seem connected to ancient history. Follow credible sources for eclipse news and be sure to avert your eyes from harmful misinformation.


No, video doesn’t show evidence of voter fraud

A post on X reads, “#BREAKING: AGAIN??? The video shows Adam Schiff taking votes from the opponent” and features a graphic that appears to show vote tallies from the 2024 California primary senate race. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California did not steal votes from Republican candidate Steve Garvey.

YES: A human typographical error while entering data into The Associated Press’ election system caused the vote tally for Garvey to be erroneously inflated by about 900,000 votes for about 30 minutes.

NO: The error would not have changed the outcome, which was that Schiff and Garvey — as the two leading candidates in the race to fill late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat — will advance to the general election in November 2024.

YES: While television stations frequently provide live coverage of election results, it can take weeks or sometimes months for votes to be officially tallied and certified.

NewsLit takeaway: Many false claims of voter fraud that circulate on social media stem from a fundamental misunderstanding about how elections work and how the news media report election results. Live news coverage of an election requires news organizations to gather data from a variety of sources, a complicated process that occasionally results in human error. Lauren Easton, the corporate communications vice president for the AP, told the AFP: “Voters are human — and so are the people who collect and count their ballots. They make mistakes on occasion. Those mistakes are almost always caught within a few minutes.”

Should the government be allowed to combat misinformation online? The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on March 18 in a major case that examines the role of the First Amendment and social media.
Midjourney, an AI image generator, announced that it has started to block its users from fabricating images of presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump ahead of this year’s election. “This moderation stuff is kind of hard,” the company’s CEO said.
More than 50 countries around the world are holding elections this year amid the rapid proliferation of AI-generated misinformation, which has blurred reality for millions of voters and opened the door for candidates to dismiss authentic photos, audio recordings and videos they don’t like as fake.
Watch out for a wave of AI-generated kid content on YouTube, from a knockoff of SpongeBob SquarePants (AISponge) to strange videos with glitchy floating eyeballs and robotic voices.
BBC’s first disinformation reporter has experienced harassing calls, violent and sexual threats, and verbal attacks from trolls in real life, but that doesn’t stop her from investigating online hate.
The upcoming April 8 solar eclipse has renewed flat Earth conspiracy theories, despite the fact that eclipses are among the overwhelming evidence that Earth is a sphere.
Four years ago this month, pandemic shutdowns started and false claims and denials about COVID-19 quickly spread online. Even now, vaccine misinformation still persists.
A network of “pink slime” publications — sites masquerading as local news sources that don’t disclose political funding — is linked to a company producing “advertorial” content for Gannett, America’s largest newspaper chain.
Print newspapers are back! At least in high schools. Students say a printed newspaper provides a respite from media overload, brings a sense of community and feels more real than a website.

News Goggles

Elizabeth Culliford of The Wall Street Journal shares three tips for how to verify visuals online in this NLP TikTok video below. (This video can also be viewed on Instagram.)

Elizabeth Culliford of The Wall Street Journal talks to the camera with an office setting in the background.
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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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