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Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018
Correction: In an item last week about Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, we placed the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at the University of Missouri. It is based at Arizona State University. (The University of Missouri is home to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.)
Can we outlaw 'fake news'?

That’s a question being considered by the High Level Expert Group on Fake News — a European Union commission that held its first session yesterday. It was created to assess the threat of “fake news” and to make recommendations about fighting it.

Establishment of this panel is just the latest in a series of efforts by European governments to curb the influence of misinformation. Another is a controversial proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to give regulators in his country broad powers to limit and censor information “controlled or financed” by foreign governments. It has prompted a variety of organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, to complain that enactment of such a law could result in censorship of legitimate satire and investigative journalism.

Throughout 2017, social media companies faced a wave of legal actions across Europe, where privacy regulations are much stricter than in the U.S. Some countries, such as Germany and Britain, have passed laws allowing fines against social media networks for failure to remove misinformation and hate speech.

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

NLP's winter online PD series, Teaching News Literacy, starts Jan. 23.

See details and registration here.

Viral rumor rundown

  • YES: Shane Missler, a 20-year-old from Port Richey, Fla., was the sole winner of the recent $450 million Mega Millions jackpotNO: He is not offering $5,000 to the first 50,000 people to retweet a post; the account from which that tweet was sent is a fake.
    • Note: "Engagement-bait" on social media is sometimes used to cultivate large followings for paid marketing campaigns.
  • YES: In remarks at the White House last Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced the delivery of fighter jets to Norway — including F-52s, which exist only in the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.” NO: There is no evidence that the president plays or is otherwise familiar with the game; he likely conflated the total number of planes in the sale (52), which he mentioned later in his remarks, with the “F” designation used for fighter planes.
  • NO:  The U.S. Army has not created a new military occupational specialty of “holistic medic” to offer soldiers homeopathic and other “natural” treatments.
    • Note: This rumor originated in an item posted on Duffel Blog, a military satire site.
  • NO:  Ivanka Trump is not pregnant. YES: Last Wednesday, as a birthday message to her husband, she tweeted a picture of the couple from 2016 in which she was pregnant.
  • YES: This year’s strain of the influenza virus is particularly hazardous and widespread. NO:  You (still) cannot get the flu from this year’s versions of the flu vaccine (which use an inactivated, or “dead,” dose of the virus). NO: There is no evidence that the flu vaccine is otherwise harmful or hazardous to your health.
    • Note: Variations of baseless rumors about the flu vaccine circulate every flu season.

Featured Resource:
First Draft News' Observation Challenge

First Draft News fights mis- and disinformation online and provides training and resources to help people evaluate the authenticity and credibility of social media content. The Observation Challenge helps users develop the ability to identify locations in digital images by inspecting visual cues, such as architecture, signage and the surrounding landscape. Try it with your students, then tweet your thoughts to @firstdraftnews.

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Less news in News Feed?

Facebook’s News Feed is changing, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a public post on Thursday: Rather than simply helping its users “find relevant content,” the world’s largest social media company will now focus on helping them “have more meaningful social interactions.”

What this means, wrote Adam Mosseri, the head of News Feed, is that users will now see less “public content” — from businesses, media companies and nonprofits, for example — and more posts from friends, family members and interest-based Facebook groups. The changes in the personalization algorithm that Facebook uses to populate the News Feed also will prioritize posts that friends or family members have liked, shared or commented on.

While the company sees this as a way to increase the number of opportunities for users “to interact with the people they care about,” others worry that it will deal a devastating blow to publishers — especially news organizations. Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed News called it a “retreat from the online public square the company helped create” and pointed out that prioritizing content from friends and family could also serve to reinforce “filter bubbles” — online echo chambers in which false claims and partisan perspectives can attain the illusion of consensus.

Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, expressed concern that this shift in focus will create a void in the distribution of information and that news organizations “will shrink back from taking journalism to the people where they are having their conversations because there is no money to be made there.”

Still, he added, he is hopeful that Facebook’s self-described return to “meaningful interactions” can be an opportunity for the company to combat political polarization by promoting “civility, intelligence and credibility” in conversations — and for news organizations to focus on creating “conversational news” in partnership with the public.

After all, he noted, civility is “a precondition for journalism and an informed society.”

  • Note: These changes highlight the importance of news literacy education, the need for students to explore the role that civility plays in civics, and the role that individual Facebook users can play in curating and sharing pieces of quality journalism with their friends and family members.
  • Discuss: What is the relationship between civility and journalism? Do facts held in common promote civility, or does civility promote the acceptance of facts held in common? What do you think the effects of the changes announced by Facebook last week will be? Why?
  • Idea: Discuss the changes announced by Facebook with students, then teach them how to turn the platform’s ranking algorithm off and view an account’s News Feed by chronology instead:

To turn off Facebook’s ranking algorithm and view, in reverse chronological order, the posts shared by friends and by pages that you follow, select Most Recent from the News Feed dropdown menu.

In this section, NLP's director of education, John Silva, NBCT, offers his suggestions for connecting news literacy with civic engagement and action.

Note: @MrSilva Suggests will return in February with a new focus as part of a larger project on the connections between news literacy and civic engagement. Stay tuned!

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 have suggestions for future issues of The Sift, please share them here.

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 rest of the 2017-18 school year. Yes, it’s free.
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