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Friday, Sept. 22, 2017

Unique examples, core concepts

This week the items I selected focus on a range of core news literacy concepts in interesting ways, including algorithmic news judgment, two efforts to play the watchdog role by exposing racism, a partisan organization's website masquerading as news and a new survey reflecting alarming attitudes among college students about First Amendment protections. I hope, as always, these examples and ideas help you integrate news literacy into your classrooms next week. Have a great weekend, everyone.

                                                                                                        — Peter 

 Exposing or normalizing?

On Tuesday, The State (a McClatchy newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina) published an overtly racist letter to the editor. The writer, who has a history of making racist claims, argues that the recent controversy about removing Confederate monuments revolves around one question: Was John C. Calhoun right or wrong when he made his infamous claim that American slavery was “a positive good”? Cindi Ross Scoppe, the editor at The State who decided to run the letter, followed up by explaining that she included it to “hold a mirror up to our community, so it can examine itself, warts and all.” Others — for example, in this Twitter thread  argue that such opinions have no place in public discourse and should be excluded.

  • Note: Should you decide to use this difficult example in the classroom, please prepare your students for it. In its Sept. 14 episode, the public radio program "On the Media" had a thoughtful segment about these kinds of opinions and the need for trigger warnings when introducing them in the classroom. A background discussion about the debate over removing Confederate monuments could also be helpful.
  • Discuss: Was The State right to publish the letter? Did doing so expose racist ideas in a positive way that will prompt community reflection or in a negative way that will normalize these ideas and make them appear open to debate? Did the paper merely provide a forum for views that many people find reprehensible? Should the paper have included an editor’s note the day the letter ran? Why or why not?
  • Act: Have your students write to The State or to Cindi Ross Scoppe and share their thoughts.

GOP governors' gambit

The Associated Press reported this week that in July the Republican Governors Association (RGA) launched an online publication — the Free Telegraph — that resembles a politics news site but promotes only Republicans and disparages Democrats. The AP also reported that the site’s domain was registered using a proxy agent to disguise its origin. After AP reporters made inquiries last week, a box was added at the bottom of the home page, stating that the RGA was paying for the site. The Free Telegraph also has several social media accounts, none of which have a similar disclosure statement.

  • Discuss: All political parties create communications to advance their political goals, sometimes using misleading tactics. Does presenting these communications as "news" (initially without a disclosure) cross an ethical line or is the site just a clever and effective way for the RGA to get its message out? 
  • Idea: Challenge students to explore and collect other examples of political communications, including those from activists, advocacy organizations and political parties. Then have teams of students give each one an ethics ranking with a short explanation of their process.
"If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech."
                                                         Catherine Rampell, The Washington Post

 Viral rumor rundown

 Networked newsworthiness

Twitter launched a Popular Articles feature this week that curates tweets that got high engagement (likes and retweets) from the people you follow. This helps mitigate the relentless, nonstop timeline that always has something new, forcing users to miss a lot when they're not looking. While other social platforms have had similar features for years, I’m including this one here because I think the reality of crowd-sourced curation — your network’s information consumption choices influencing, or even becoming, your own — represents an intersection between digital literacy and news literacy that is important for students to explore.

  • Discuss: What are the advantages and potential pitfalls of having a social media feed sorted chronologically? Sorted by engagement of those you’re connected to?
  • Idea: Start a few class Twitter accounts (not fake people-based profiles, please!) and follow different groups of people with each. For example, use one to follow only strong partisans on the left, another to follow strong partisans on the right, and still another to follow mainstream news organizations and journalists. (Keep going if you like: activist organizations, universities, celebrities, sports figures, brands, etc.) Then check the Popular Articles for each once a day or week and compare the results. How are they different? What impact could the feature have if each the accounts you created belonged to actual people?
  • Relevant and related: An American Press Institute study from March found that people’s trust in information is influenced more by who shared it than who created it.

Do you want to help your students make sense of the torrent of news and information streaming through their online worlds?

Join me and my colleague, John Silva, for the final two workshops in our PD series “Teaching News Literacy.” 

Details and registration here.

(Use the promo code PREMIUM and get 50 percent off your registration.)

 Facebook's ad disclosures

Facebook’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, took to Facebook Live on Thursday to announce that the company will turn over to Senate and House committees investigating Russian influence on the 2016 election more than 3,000 political ads that were promoted on the platform by fake accounts with Russian ties. At the same time, the company is still working through the fallout from ProPublica’s revelation late last week that Facebook’s market segmentation algorithm had created audience segments that enabled advertisers to target users who had expressed interest in openly racist views. Zuckerberg vowed to continue to work on the platform’s vulnerabilities to state-sponsored propaganda. In the meantime, members of Congress have called for promoted posts used for political advertising on social media to be regulated like political ads on television, including disclosures about funding. Scott Shane and Mike Isaac provided a good summary of the situation in Thursday's New York Times.

  • Discuss: Should “promoted posts” (ads) on social media be regulated by the government? Can social networks ever hope to stop the flow of propaganda on their sites, or is this a new reality we all need to adjust to? How can Facebook and other social networks stop their algorithms from “learning” and creating categories for the racist ideologies embraced by some users?

 Quick connections

  • It might just be that we need things like Slack channels, Facebook groups, messaging apps and journalism collectives to meaningfully combat the misinformation that inevitably spreads in the hours, days and weeks after natural disasters. Read Daniel Funke's post-hurricane debrief on
    • Discuss: What positive role can news-literate consumers play in the info-wake of disasters?
  • CNN's Brian Stelter interviewed several guests who offered insightful comments on those controversial tweets by ESPN's Jemele Hill — watch here, here and here
    • Note: Clips from "Reliable Sources," CNN's weekly show about the media, can be an excellent way to get students up to speed on complex media controversies and ignite further discussion and inquiry.
  • A new study about free speech on college campuses from the Brookings Institution's John Villasenor found some disturbing trends: Just over half of the 1,500 survey respondents said drowning out an offensive speaker by yelling is acceptable, and about 20 percent said violence is an acceptable way to prevent such a speaker from appearing. Read Catherine Rampell's column in The Washington Post.  
    • Idea:  Re-create the poll in your classroom and see how your students' opinions compare with those in the study.
  • In her new book, Hillary Clinton pins a lot of blame on the news media for her loss in the 2016 presidential election. But how much of this is fair? Watch Brian Stelter of CNN discuss this with Amy Chozick from The New York Times.
  • The Emmys caused a stir this week. There were partisan jabs, a stunt with Sean Spicer (that drew criticism), a Trump tweet claiming "worst ever" ratings and a correction from Colbert (the ratings were the second-worst ever).
In this section, NLP's director of education, John Silva, NBCT, offers weekly suggestions for connecting news literacy with civic engagement and action.
Curate Examples of 'Info Zones'

Critically evaluating information is a complex task for students that takes ongoing effort and practice. But recognizing major types of information is an approachable, engaging and fundamental skill.

As students learn to distinguish between straight news, opinion, advertising, entertainment and other forms of information, consider having them collect examples of each as they encounter them online. There are a number of excellent free apps students can use to do this, including Pocket, Instapaper and Flipboard. Students can begin collecting only one type of information and then move into categorizing across types, or they can further refine a single category (for example, distinguishing branded content from traditional ads). Student teams can compare what they find and discuss conflicting or confounding examples. This is a great way to develop a fundamental habit of mind for critical consumption of news and information that also opens up opportunities to explore the social and civic problems that could result from people mistaking one type of information for another. (NLP’s checkology® virtual classroom has a core lesson about this subject.)

Other Stuff We Read This Week

  • “Facebook was simply not built to handle problems of this magnitude. It’s a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps. Its engineers are in the business of building apps and selling advertising, not determining what constitutes hate speech in Myanmar. And with two billion users, including 1.3 billion who use it every day, moving ever greater amounts of their social and political activity onto Facebook, it’s possible that the company is simply too big to understand all of the harmful ways people might use its products.”
  • “One way of looking at the activities of Russia’s information machine is as a resumption of the propaganda fight between the United States and the U.S.S.R. that began immediately following the Second World War. In the late 1940s, the Marshall Plan, the herculean development project helmed by Secretary of State George Marshall, flooded postwar Europe with money and advisers to help rebuild cities, advance democracy and form an integrated economic zone. Joseph Stalin immediately saw it as a threat — and saw propaganda as one of his best weapons to contain it.”
  • "Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere."
Please share this newsletter with others who may find this information useful (subscribe here). For more examples and ideas like these, you can follow me on Twitter (@PeterD_Adams). Also follow @TheNewsLP and @MrSilva.

If you're looking for engaging and effective news literacy resources, check out NLP's checkology® virtual classroom. We’re giving away student licenses for 1:1 functionality for the entire 2017-18 school year. Yes, it’s free.
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