GSAN: Twitter and free speech | Sheriff targets reporter | ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ revisited


Learn news literacy this week
Twitter and free speech | Sheriff targets reporter | 'Birds Aren't Real' revisited

News Goggles

This school year, News Goggles has aimed to offer a behind-the-scenes look at journalism through videos of conversations with professional journalists about their work. We've spoken to journalists from Oklahoma Watch, The Chicago Tribune, Colorado Public Radio, The 19th* and Reuters. Along the way, we've shined a light on key news literacy concepts, including sourcing, watchdog reporting and journalism standards. We will return in the fall with more News Goggles resources!


Top picks

Elon Musk on April 25 struck a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, contending he can restore “free speech” to the platform. The announcement was applauded by those who feel Twitter’s content moderation policies amount to one-sided political censorship, but met with concern from those who believe the policies are necessary to combat harmful misinformation and targeted harassment.
A California sheriff’s recent efforts to target a Los Angeles Times reporter are part of a trend of public officials using their power to undercut the work of journalists, write Elahe Izadi and Paul Farhi of The Washington Post. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced at a recent news conference that Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian would be included in a criminal leak investigation following her watchdog reporting on a departmental cover-up involving a deputy kneeling on an inmate’s head. Amid widespread criticism, the sheriff backed off his remarks, but press freedom advocates say such actions can still have a chilling effect on other reporting on matters of public interest.
The desire to avoid conflict plays a key role in how and whether people challenge misinformation on personal messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, according to a recent report from the Everyday Misinformation Project. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 102 people in the U.K. and examined how social norms shaped their responses to COVID-19 vaccine falsehoods shared in personal messaging groups. They found that people — worried about “undermining group cohesion by provoking conflict” — were reluctant to speak up. But, the report noted, failing to call out falsehoods in friend, family or school groups can tacitly legitimize misinformation and “contribute to its further spread.”

Viral rumor rundown

Viral video is not the Russian warship Moskva

A still from a TikTok video showing a ship exploding at sea. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, 'NOT THE MOSKVA.'

NO: The ship in this viral video is not the Russian warship Moskva, which sank in the Black Sea on April 14. YES: It is video of a missile test on a decommissioned ship conducted by the Norwegian Navy in 2013.

NewsLit takeaway: Sensational footage of fires, artillery and other military combat scenes has repeatedly gone viral out of context during the war between Ukraine and Russia — often to chase clicks and engagement online. As is the case during many significant news events, purveyors of misinformation seized on the sinking of Russia’s flagship missile cruiser for attention — and the stunning video of the decommissioned Norwegian naval ship exploding was easy to pass off out of context. Though these kinds of false context rumors are often recirculated without being altered, in this instance the original video was flipped, likely to make it more difficult for fact-checkers to locate the actual source.


There was no conspiracy to hide Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial

A Facebook post that says, “The same system that kept you in the dark about Ghislaine Maxwell and her client list, doesn’t mind live-streaming Johnny Depp’s trial”. The post includes an image of a courtroom sketch of Maxwell juxtaposed with a photo of Depp in court. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says 'MISLEADING.'

NO: The fact that Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial for sex trafficking in 2021 was not broadcast while other court proceedings — such as the 2022 defamation trial involving Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard — are live-streamed is not due to a conspiracy to protect powerful people on Maxwell’s “client list,” as this meme implies. YES: Maxwell’s criminal trial took place in federal court, where “electronic media coverage … has been expressly prohibited” since 1946. YES: Depp’s defamation suit against Heard is a civil matter being tried in a Virginia state court, where electronic media coverage is permitted at the discretion of judges.

NewsLit takeaway: Conspiratorial thinking can lead people to jump to conclusions and misinterpret innocuous details as “evidence” that supports their preferred theories about the world. In this case, false rumors about Maxwell’s trial stem from a persistent belief that powerful institutions are conspiring to protect influential people associated with Jeffrey Epstein — the financier who died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges in 2019. Conspiracy theorists indulged in the same kind of motivated reasoning when Kyle Rittenhouse was tried for murder in Wisconsin state court in 2021. Several iterations of this highly misleading claim have recently circulated online, including in an April 25 tweet by Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

This May 1 60 Minutes report about the satirical conspiracy theory movement Birds Aren't Real makes a great coda to NLP's interactive mission on the movement.
Don't miss this editorial cartoon from Ann Telnaes of The Washington Post in honor of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 — and consider pairing it with NLP's new Checkology lesson, "Power in Art: The Watchdog Role of Editorial Cartoonists."
Be sure to explore the recently launched digital publication The Emancipator, which revives America’s first abolitionist newspaper and seeks to reframe the national conversation on racial equity.
The Department of Homeland Security has formed a new Disinformation Governance Board to combat the threat of disinformation. The board announced that its initial focus will be on misinformation targeting migrants — which can lead to surges at the southern border — along with Russian disinformation intended to disrupt elections in the United States.
Female correspondents reporting from Ukraine are bringing the human toll of the conflict to life, “determined to keep audiences engaged even in an ever-churning news cycle.”
Learn more about the history of “yellow journalism” and how the media environment during the Spanish-American War compares to the current one in this PolitiFact piece.

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).

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the educator version of Get Smart About News called The Sift® here.


Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where you can learn to better navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.