In this section, NLP's director of education, John Silva, NBCT, offers his suggestions for connecting news literacy with civic engagement and action.
‘Fake news’ for a good cause?
When I taught AP Human Geography, some of my most engaged conversations with students involved discussions of cultural appropriation and identity — especially related to sports teams’ names and mascots. The topic has once again gone viral, this time with the help of imposter news sites.
Last week, several stories were widely promoted across social media, all stating that the National Football League team in Washington had changed its name to the Redhawks. The stories looked like actual news reports from ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post, and the URLs were similar enough to those publications’ actual URLs that some readers could have been easily fooled. Because of the longstanding controversy about this particular team name, the stories sparked strong responses for and against the rebranding.
Links within the stories took readers to the “official” Washington Redhawks website, which included this disclaimer:
“This website is a parody and is not endorsed by the Washington football team, the NFL, [team owner] Dan Snyder, or any of their affiliates because, in 2017, these people think it’s still OK to use a racial slur for their mascot. This website was created by Native advocates to help us all imagine how easy and powerful changing the mascot could be. See our press release for more details.”
Each of the fake stories included similar language. A Native American advocacy organization, the Rising Hearts Coalition, said it was responsible for the campaign.
Frequently, bogus material is created simply to generate ad revenue. We’ve also seen it created for humorous purposes, such as hoaxes or pranks. And we’ve seen misinformation created to influence elections. Here, though, we have a different agenda: This “fake news” campaign was created to further the effort to change team names or mascots that many feel are offensive to Native Americans’ history, culture and identity.
This raises an interesting news literacy debate: How much does the intent behind the creation of misinformation matter? Can deception and misinformation be justified in the name of a good cause? Does this tactic ultimately damage the causes that activists are trying to help?
Ask your students what issue they are most passionate about. What would their reaction be if “their” cause came under a cloud of misinformation?