Accessing timely, reliable information is of paramount importance during a severe weather event, and yet, in an era of multiplying media platforms, consumers are reaching for a variety of media, including social media, as sources of breaking news during such events. Dissemination of false news reports may increase substantially, if not exponentially at such times. In this MediaLit Moment, a false news item generated during Hurricane Sandy provides a real-world scenario for exploring principles of information credibility and grappling with questions of journalistic ethics.
Ask students to examine the trail of sources associated with a false news report
AHA!: Establishing the validity of a news report isn’t always easy!
Key Question #1: Who created this message?
Core Concept #1: All media messages are constructed
Key Question #2: What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
Core Concept #2: Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules
Grade Level: 9+
Materials: Handout of news story from Poynter Institute; or computer with internet connection, LCD projector and classroom screen
Activity: Hook students by asking them what they know about the Internet as a source for false news reports. Did they see any false reports for Hurricane Sandy?
Display or distribute the following story on the false report of flooding at the New York Stock Exchange from Poynter Institute, a national organization devoted to teaching the writing and critical reading of news:
When students have finished reading the story, ask whether they believe it had been appropriate for Piers Morgan and other CNN commentators to rely on the information they had at their disposal and pass on the story that the NYSE had been flooded. Why or why not? Why does it matter? During the discussion, make sure to ask which sources of information mentioned in the story they believe to be the most credible and why. Direct their attention to Key Question #1.
Extended Activity: On the same night that the National Weather Service confirmed that this was a false report, reporters from BuzzFeed, a news and social media site, identified a single Twitter post from a user with the handle @snuglycomfortable as the source. They also claimed to identify the user. And indeed, the next day, Shashank Tripathi, a Wall Street hedge fund analyst, tweeted an apology for this and other deliberately misleading posts he made during the storm, and resigned from his position as a manager for a local Congressional campaign. Ask students, what did Tripathi do wrong? Should he also have to pay a legal penalty? Also ask students to consider the medium of Twitter. Is it reasonable for audiences to trust news from this source, or is it entirely suspect? Direct students’ attention to Key Questions #1 and #2.
The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework. Used with permission, © 2002-2012, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com