Peter Adams @PeterD_Adams Head of education @NewsLitProject. Passionate about news literacy, education, journalism, civics & fighting misinformation. Opinions = mine; RTs ≠ endorsements. Oct. 15, 2019 4 min read

#Teachers: If you're trying to help students make sense of @ABC's false use of gun range footage in a report on Sunday about violence in Syria, here are some pointers:

1. Don't be cynical: Despite the online rantings of bad-faith partisans, there is no evidence that this was intentional nor ideologically-motivated. The conflict in Syria is highly newsworthy & the motivation here was almost certainly to get a sensational, great-for-TV clip.

2. Wouldn't make sense for ABC News: While using visuals like videos & photos in false contexts is an extremely common strategy employed by misinformation purveyors, it's almost always exposed. This strategy makes sense for opportunists looking for get quick clicks, or for...

...partisans who are looking to score cheap points and sow confusion. But it absolutely doesn't make sense for a standards-based news outlet to do this intentionally. Whatever short-term gain it might get would be quickly & overwhelmingly reversed by the damage to its reputation.

In short, this is an excellent opportunity to remind students that not all information -- including misinformation -- is created equal. Not every use of information out of context is motivated by the same things, and not all are intentional.

3. Still, the public needs answers: @ABC truly owes the public a full, transparent explanation of how this happened--something, amazingly, it has not yet done. There are lots of possibilities here--an overeager staffer thought it was authentic footage and no one...

...checked it before it aired; the clip was shared w ABC to trick it into making this embarrassing error; someone on staff intentionally tried to pass this off to further their career; etc.--but until @ABC credibly explains, they're ceding the discussion to cynics & partisans.

4. ABC should also explain what will change: In addition to explaining how this high-profile and damaging error occurred, @ABC needs to also explain what steps it will take to ensure that similar errors don't happen in the future.

5. Corrections are important: The fact that this was quickly corrected after being pointed out is a good thing. Corrections and apologies don't reverse the damage the error caused, and they don't mean people should stop demanding answers, but it's a positive sign of credibility.

All news outlets make errors (though the overwhelming majority are not this egregious) and while corrections are something every serious journalist laments and works hard to avoid, they are also something every legitimate news outlet publishes when they make even a minor error.

It's vital that students understand this point. If @ABC were to simply have deleted the offending story and stonewalled everyone, refusing to acknowledge or apologize, then that would be a strong signal that they are not a trustworthy source of news.

These kinds of errors by legitimate news outlets are rare: Finally, it's important that students understand that while a number of major news outlets have had major breaches of standards--including individual journalists fabricating sources and/or quotes, publishing/airing...

...unverified information, altering images or footage, or using unverified or false images or video--they are relatively rare, and almost always due to either carelessness or individuals who are either cutting corners or trying to earn acclaim for their work.

Reviewing past examples of major standards breaches can be instructive for students. Whether it's Jayson Blair at the NYT, or CNN's Boston Marathon bombing error, or The Washington Post's inital coverage of the Covington Catholic students on the national mall...

...the through-line is the same: journalists chasing a big/newsworthy story. Most errors that result from this motivation are due to journalists who move too fast, think they have something confirmed when they don't. Occasionally it's something else--self promotion/dishonesty...

...a bad actor trying to troll or manipulate a news outlet into sharing false information and/or damaging its own reputation--but usually it's simply a matter of the pressures and (perhaps problematic) incentives of the news industry. A desire to get the scoop, to deliver...

...powerful, important, even shocking information of substance that people will pay attention to, that make a substantial contribution to a major ongoing story (like what's happening in Syria), etc.

None of this excuses @ABC's error, & none of it lets it off the hook for explaining exactly how this happened, & taking concrete steps to be more careful & transparent about its sourcing in the future. But these points can help Ss avoid the pitfalls laid by partisans & cynics...

...who seek to convince them that truly credible information doesn't exist, that everything is a tactical manipulation, that all information is manufactured "narrative" & ideological spin, and in so doing seek to legitimize/normalize their own misleading, manipulative work.

UPDATE: @JerryDunleavy from @dcexaminer has found an Oct. 9 tweet from a Turkish politician that uses the same footage in misleading ways.

You can follow @PeterD_Adams.


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