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Answer Sheet: Using ChatGPT for Disinformation and Other 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. With the spread of rumors, baseless accusations and conspiracy theories on social and partisan media sites, there has never been a time in recent U.S. history when this skill has been as important as now.

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.

The Sift — Jan. 30, 2023

Teach news literacy this week ChatGPT misinfo | Lisa Marie Presley rumors | Debunking ozone myths

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

Top picks

ChatGPT, a chatbot utilizing AI to generate text, launched in November 2022. The controversial tool raises a variety of concerns, from cheating in school assignments to producing misinformation.

1. ChatGPT, a free and publicly accessible artificial intelligence text generator, is a new tool that not only produces human-sounding academic essays within seconds, but it can also be used to create mis- and disinformation online. A NewsGuard analysis found that when ChatGPT was prompted with 100 false narratives — about Ukraine, immigration, covid-19, school shootings and more — it complied with 80 percent of requests, raising concerns about the tool’s potential to be exploited to perpetuate disinformation and propaganda.

• Discuss: How can AI tools be weaponized to create disinformation? How could AI technology like ChatGPT impact your school community? What are some pros and cons of using a chatbot? Should AI tools be regulated in some way?

• Idea: Ask students to read through ChatGPT responses in the NewsGuard report. Which false topics did the chatbot push back on? Which debunked narratives did it write long responses to?

• Related:

— “‘Everybody is cheating’: Why this teacher has adopted an open ChatGPT policy” (Patrick Wood and Mary Louise Kelly, NPR)

— “Opinion | If AI kills the essay, I will be a pallbearer at the funeral” (Michael Bugeja, Poynter)

Dig deeper: Use this think sheet to take notes on how AI can be exploited to create disinformation.

2. What visuals are appropriate and ethical to show in the news when reporting violence? This Poynter piece digs into the Los Angeles Times’ decision to run a Jan. 23 front-page photo of a mass shooting suspect after he died by suicide. The photo was taken from a distance. A Times vice president of communications explained editors “carefully weigh the news value of photos depicting death” and that they believed this photo was “an important piece of journalism.”

• Discuss: Do you agree with the Times’ decision to run the photo? Why do you think most standards-based news organizations generally don’t run photos, as Poynter’s Tom Jones writes, “of people who are badly injured and/or dead?” When and why are there exceptions to this rule with certain stories or topics?

• Idea: Use NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom program to connect with a visual journalist about how they choose photos and videos to publish in the news.

• Resource: “What Is News?” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).

• Related:

— “News organizations grapple with showing horrific Nichols, Pelosi videos” (Jeremy Barr, The Washington Post).

— “Should news outlets show graphic images of mass shooting victims? Researchers and other experts weigh in.” (Clark Merrefield, The Journalist’s Resource).

3. A baseless rumor about students dressing and identifying as animals in schools led an Indiana lawmaker to address dress-code policies in a recent state education bill. Indiana educators say that furries — a subculture of people interested in anthropomorphism — are not an issue in K-12 schools, according to the Indianapolis Star. Debunked rumors that schools are allowing students to identify as animals have been repeated by conservative commentators and politicians who peg this “as an extension of allowing [students] to choose their own gender identity,” the newspaper reported.

• Discuss: What real-life impacts have you observed from misinformation online? Why do you think this falsehood about students dressed as animals was repeated by commentators and politicians?

• Resource: “Misinformation” (Checkology virtual classroom).

• Related:

— “Proposal describes ‘furries’ as disruptive school attire” (Cody Bailey, WEHT).

— “Fact Check - No evidence that U.S. schoolchildren are self-identifying as animals and disrupting classrooms” (Reuters Fact Check).

— “No, schools aren’t making litter boxes available for students who identify as cats” (Dan Evon, NLP’s RumorGuard).

RumorGuard Rundown

Love RumorGuard? Receive timely updates by signing up for RG alerts here.

Lisa Marie Presley didn’t post about coronavirus vaccine before her death

(News Literacy Project)

NO: There is no evidence that Lisa Marie Presley’s death was related to the coronavirus vaccine.

NO: Presley did not write a post about getting the coronavirus vaccine shortly before her death.

YES: The “Lisa Marie” who wrote the post is a fashion stylist and influencer from Venezuela.

YES: Members of the anti-vaccine movement have repeatedly exploited celebrity deaths by baselessly claiming they were caused by the coronavirus vaccine.

NewsLit takeaway: The appetite for information related to a trending news story is often exploited by bad actors seeking to push disinformation. In the wake of Presley’s death on Jan. 12, vaccine deniers seized on a screenshot of a social media post published by an account from “Lisa Marie.” The Post was authentic; it was shared on Facebook by Lisa Marie Borjas, a beauty blogger and influencer whose name on Facebook is simply, “Lisa Marie.” Social media posts that circulate online as a screenshot are sometimes misleading. Because they contain no direct links, they can easily spread misinformation that isn’t simple to verify. Basic verification skills — such as a quick search for a portion of the text of the post — would have found fact checks proving the original author was a fashion stylist in Venezuela.

Vibranium? No, electrically charged rocks weren’t discovered in Congo

(News Literacy Project)

NO: This video does not show a newly discovered type of electrically charged rock.

YES: Some rocks can serve as conduits for electricity.

NO: Experts and geologists told news agencies that these rocks are not “generating some kind of voltage” on their own.

NO: This rumored discovery has not been verified by any credible scientific body or other standards-based source.

NewsLit takeaway: Sometimes the most important part of a video is happening just out of frame. When a series of videos went viral — videos that supposedly show rocks acting as batteries to power small electrical devices, such as lightbulbs — various experts weighed in to note that this footage did not comport with what was known about geology. Some rocks can conduct electricity, but they cannot generate energy. So how does the stunt in this video work? There is likely a battery hiding out of frame. Remember, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. In this case, we have one assertion — a previously unknown material was discovered that acts unlike any other geological formation and can produce an infinite amount of energy — to weigh against the likelihood that someone made a deceptive video and shared it online. What seems more plausible? Also note that major scientific discoveries are unlikely to be announced first on social media.

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


• The October 2022 cover of a student publication at a university in Los Angeles County was supposed to be a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, but instead included four anti-Latino racial slurs — without input from student staffers. This LAist story digs into the nebulous decision-making behind the cover and the harm that resulted.

• An art professor on sabbatical during the pandemic took photos of 115 newspaper offices across Kansas. His photo project, “Fourth Estate,” features small-town papers that have closed or have downsized, providing a poignant view of local journalism’s struggle to survive.

• A coalition of journalism groups representing over 3,000 newsrooms has formed Rebuild Local News, a nonprofit organization that will lobby for policies that help sustain local news.

• The New York Times has joined TikTok, and its first video on the social media platform was about the Monterey Park, Calif., mass shooting.

• What happens when TikTok is your only search tool? A Wired writer documented her week-long experiment using only TikTok for search. (Spoiler: She ends up needing Google.)

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Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.