Twitter chaos, LeBron, Kyrie and more news literacy lessons

Twitter chaos, LeBron, Kyrie and more news literacy lessons


Here’s the latest installment of a regular feature I’ve been running for several years: lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project (NLP), which aims to teach students and the public how to sort fact from fiction in our digital — and contentious — age. There has never been a time in recent U.S. history when this skill has been as important as now because of the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories on social and partisan media sites.

The material in this post comes from the Sift, the organization’s newsletter for educators, which has nearly 22,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, explores social media trends and issues and includes discussion prompts and activities for the classroom. Get Smart About News, modeled on the Sift, is a free weekly newsletter for the public.

NLP has an e-learning platform, Checkology, that helps educators teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources and know what to trust, what to dismiss and what to debunk.

It also gives them an appreciation of the importance of the First Amendment and a free press. Checkology, and all of the NLP’s resources and programs, are free. Since 2016, more than 42,000 educators and 375,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have registered to use the platform.

Detecting impostor content on social media and other news literacy lessons

Here’s material from the Nov. 14 edition of the Sift:

Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

1. Crime wave narratives are a central talking point in election campaigns and across much of mainstream media coverage, but experts say crime is a complicated subject flooded with misinformation and racism — starting with how crime is defined and which kinds of crime are reported. Police chiefs developed a system of reporting crime statistics over 100 years ago that includes cases like murder, robbery and auto theft but excludes white-collar crimes such as tax evasion and wage theft. Critics say the system is biased against poor people and Brown and Black residents, and that crime is used “as a shorthand for fear of other people, especially people of color.”

Discuss: According to the NPR piece, why are crime trends so complicated? How can data be biased? Have you observed a “frenzied narrative around rising crime” in news reports or other media? How do you define crime? How is crime defined in your community? How do you think crime statistics should be reported? Why do you think some politicians spout misinformation about rising crime rates?

Idea: Invite a journalist from NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom volunteer directory to discuss how their newsroom approaches crime coverage. How do they report on crime statistics? Why is this topic newsworthy? What standards do they follow to make sure this coverage is accurate and fair?

Resources: “Making Sense of Data” and “Understanding Bias” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

◦ Opinion: “Republicans say crime is on the rise — what is the crime rate and what does it mean?” (Justin Nix, The Conversation).

“What’s Really Going On With the Crime Rate?” (Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic).

Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to have students analyze an article from this week’s Sift from a news literacy perspective.

No, final vote counts are never certified on election night

YES: States typically need days or weeks to tabulate and certify official vote counts. NO: Official vote counts have not been finalized and released by any state on election night “in modern history.”

YES: News organizations often project winners in particular races on election night when provisional results are conclusive.

NO: Delays in states releasing official vote counts are not evidence of malfeasance or fraud.

YES: Election workers in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are prohibited by state law from opening mail ballots before Election Day (with rare exceptions), which means certifying the final vote takes longer than in some states.

NewsLit takeaway: Many election integrity deniers approached the midterm elections with a determination to find “evidence” of fraud. In the absence of any actual proof of significant malfeasance (after all, voter fraud is very rare), they fabricated it by — among other things — rewriting history. This brazen lie appeared to be accepted uncritically and amplified by people manipulated into the false belief that U.S. elections are routinely corrupt and ballots are unprotected. That core conviction, which has congealed into conventional wisdom among election deniers, is the foundational falsehood of election conspiracy theories. But even a cursory online search shows official vote counts extended well beyond Election Day in every election in modern history. And even if delays in releasing results were a new phenomenon, there is no plausible way one party could use such delays to engage in election fraud.

Twitter flooded with impersonator accounts

NO: NBA basketball superstar LeBron James did not announce via Twitter that he was requesting a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers.

NO: MLB player Aroldis Chapman did not announce that he was re-signing with the New York Yankees.

NO: Nintendo USA did not post an image of Mario using an obscene gesture.

NO: Former President George W. Bush did not post crass comments about the Iraq War.

YES: A blue check mark on Twitter previously indicated that an account was verified as genuine and belonged to the named person or entity.

YES: A number of verified Twitter users changed their handles and profile names after the new verification feature was announced, then posted impostor tweets to highlight its pitfalls.

NewsLit takeaway: Changes to Twitter’s verification system spurred a spate of impostor social media posts and left many users confused about how they could tell the real accounts from the fake ones. As Twitter’s policies evolve under Elon Musk’s leadership (on Nov. 11 he paused a policy to allow users to purchase verification symbols), it is important to be extra cautious while skimming social media. Here are a few tips to verify Twitter accounts, whether they carry a blue check mark or not.

Check creation dates and follower accounts. Large, established accounts (such as those belonging to LeBron James or Nintendo) will likely have a long history of tweets and a follower count in the millions. The impostor accounts posing as them will not.

Double-check sources. If an account posts something newsworthy, look to see if any credible news sources have picked up the story. Search the poster’s name on Twitter to see if they actually have multiple accounts and look at Twitter handles and creation dates.

• As always, make sure to think critically about any content you encounter on social media before clicking like or share. Impostor accounts may be difficult to detect at a glance, so take the time to differentiate official accounts from fake ones.

You can find this week’s rumor examples to use with students in these slides.

• NBA star Kyrie Irving remains suspended from playing after he posted a link to an antisemitic video on Twitter. Irving has a history of social justice activism but in recent years has also captured headlines for amplifying dangerous or scientifically disproven conspiracy theories — such as suggesting the Earth is flat.

• A team of academics argues that critical ignoring, or choosing what information to ignore, is a necessary skill in resisting misinformation and navigating our crowded digital landscape.

• A roundup of diversity reports from major media companies shows most continue to be majority White, including at the manager level. One notable exception is the Los Angeles Times, where 53 percent of overall staff are Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino.

• Take a look at these helpful tips from The Washington Post for avoiding misinformation, including slowing down and making a collection of trusted news sources.

Here are more news literacy lessons:

Seeing through conspiracy theories and other news literacy lessons

Out-of-context Clarence Thomas photo — and other news literacy lessons