No, antifa supporters are not setting fires in the West — and more lessons on fake news

No, antifa supporters are not setting fires in the West — and more lessons on fake news

The material comes from the project’s newsletter, the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.

The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades six through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the project is offering access to Checkology Premium at no cost to educators and parents in the United States. More than 1,100 educators and parents in 49 states and D.C. have registered to use the platform with as many as 90,000 students.

You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides in this piece, but here is a rundown:

Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.

It creates digital curriculums and other resources and works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. Just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.

Here are some posts from earlier in the year:

And here are lessons from Sept. 14 edition of the Sift:

Our own worst enemy?

Russian foreign actors are again working to influence the U.S. presidential election, but questions loom about the true impact of their efforts to disinform and divide Americans, especially compared with the domestic flood of divisive rhetoric and misinformation.

A report in the past week from Axios cites increasing evidence that Russians tactics for the 2020 election are similar to those they used in 2016 and 2018: They’re trying to alienate the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party from its nominee; deepen racial divides; undermine Americans’ confidence in the security of elections, and exacerbate fear and confusion about medicine and health (this time, focusing on the coronavirus pandemic).

But a Sept. 7 piece by Joshua Yaffa, a Moscow correspondent for the New Yorker, raises questions about whether the perceived menace of Russian trolls far outweighs their actual reach. He suggests instead that the influence and abundance of homegrown falsehoods together with a deeply polarized, uncertain and mistrustful public are a far greater threat to American democracy.

Evidence for the divided, distrustful public described by Yaffa can be seen in the results of a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation survey. It found perceptions of bias in news coverage and cynicism about news media — specifically the belief that inaccuracies in reporting are designed to push a specific agenda and that the media is an active participant in the ideology wars — have increased as the country’s partisan divide has intensified.

In the end, the lesson this week might just be that when it comes to undermining democracy, Americans may be their own worst enemies.

Discuss: What counts as bias in news coverage and who decides? Why do people see different, and even conflicting, biases in news coverage? Do people tend to perceive media bias in their favor? Which sources of news do you trust? Why is an agreed-upon set of facts so vital to a democratic society?

  • Understanding Bias (NLPs Checkology virtual classroom).
  • The Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard from the Alliance for Securing Democracy provides an up-to-date summary of the topics, narratives and specific articles being pushed by agents of the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments and their state-run news outlets.

Fires in the West

NO: Supporters of the antifa movement are not setting wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. YES: A few people have been arrested for arson across three states in the region in the past week, but at least two of those arrests are not connected to the wildfires. NO: None of those arrested have been associated with the antifa movement an informal coalition of far-left groups and other activists that opposes fascism. YES: The baseless rumors prompted groups of citizens to form patrols looking for arsonists; several armed members of one patrol stopped an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter and told him to leave the area he was covering. YES: At least four police departments in Oregon are imploring the public to not share antifa and arson-related falsehoods because they are overwhelming emergency dispatchers and causing dangerous confusion on the ground.

Note: A sheriff’s deputy in Clackamas County, Ore., has been placed on leave after he repeated false antifa-related rumors to a man recording him on video in a parking lot. Local authorities and the FBI have said the rumors are untrue. The video — which begins with the unidentified citizen asking the deputy, “What have you heard about antifa?” — has gone viral as evidence among online communities pushing the false connection. As of Sept. 14, the video was not only still live on YouTube but also was being monetized (has ads at the beginning).

Also note: In an attempt to manufacture evidence of antifa involvement, bad actors online used fake sockpuppet Twitter accounts posing as official antifa accounts to claim responsibility.

Tip: Images of posts from one social media platform often go viral on another, which makes them more difficult to verify. For example, images of politician Paul J. Romero’s false tweet (above) have been shared dozens of times on Facebook without a link back to the original tweet, which makes it difficult for people on Facebook to see Romero’s profile information or comments flagging the fact that his claims are false.

Misleading Trump video

NO: This does not show President Trump wandering in a state of confusion on the White House lawn. NO: It is not evidence that the president has dementia. YES: It is a deceptively edited clip taken from a video of Trump in 2019 walking away from reporters to wait for first lady Melania Trump.

A fake Biden tweet

NO: The tweet pictured above was not posted by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s verified Twitter account. YES: It is an image of a fake tweet.

Note: Fake tweet generator websites make it simple for anyone to create an image of a fake tweet from any account, date and time they choose, and with any profile photo they upload. Some generators even let users input the number of likes and shares they want to appear on a fake tweet.

Also note: Many fake tweets are shared along with the claim that they’ve since been deleted. ProPublica’s Politwoops website automatically archives all tweets from public officials’ actual accounts that have been deleted, including those from Biden. This archive can help debunk false claims that a fake tweet was tweeted and later deleted.

Idea: Ask students to identify signs that this tweet is not authentic (e.g. the typo in Trump’s Twitter handle, extra space before the comma and grammatical errors).

Covid-19 cases

NO: This year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota did not cause more than 266,000 new cases of covid-19 across the country. YES: A group of economists at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany, released a pre-publication, non-peer-reviewed draft of research (PDF) making this claim but it relied on flawed methodology, according to a number of experts. YES: At least 290 new cases of covid-19, and at least one death, have been connected to the rally.

Tip: Some news outlets devote coverage to interesting, shocking or sensational findings from newly released academic research, but sometimes this research does not hold up under further review in the days and weeks to follow. When looking at reporting about research findings, pay attention to the attribution for the claims (for example, according to a new study) and watch out for conditional language (such as may have caused as many as).

Idea: Use this headline collection of initial coverage of these findings and have students rate each. Which headlines were written conscientiously, and which were irresponsible? What differences do they notice?

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