No, Time magazine didn’t publish a Putin-Hitler cover


The material in this post comes from the organization’s newsletter for educators, the Sift, which has more than 23,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, discusses 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.

The News Literacy Project’s browser-based e-learning platform Checkology helps educators teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources, 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 NLP’s resources and programs, are free. Since 2016, more than 37,000 educators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 3,000 educators and more than 125,000 students have actively used Checkology.

Here’s material from the March 7 edition of the Sift:

1. The Russian Parliament passed a law that criminalizes publishing information on the military that the Kremlin deems “false,” including reporting by independent news organizations and social media posts by individuals. In response to the law, one independent newspaper that has long been critical of the Russian government, Novaya Gazeta, announced on Twitter that it was deleting its war coverage to avoid prosecution. Other major news organizations, including the BBC, CNN, ABC, CBS and Bloomberg, responded to the law by suspending their broadcasts or reporting from Russia. The Washington Post announced that it would remove bylines and datelines from some stories to protect its journalists based in Russia.

  • Discuss: Why do authoritarian regimes try to control information? Why might the Russian government want to control the way its invasion of Ukraine is described? What impact will this new law have on the quality of information about the war that Russians can access? What impact could this law have on people in Russia? How could this law affect the global community?
  • Related:

2. RT America, a division of the Russian state-run “news” network, announced March 3 that it would be stopping production and ceasing operations. The decision came just days after DirecTV and the streaming service Roku said they would stop carrying the channel. Tech platforms — including YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook and TikTok — also recently took steps to block or restrict access in the European Union to content from Russian propaganda news sources.

  • Note: As CNN’s Oliver Darcy points out, major tech platforms are still making Russian state propaganda channels available outside of Europe.
  • Discuss: Should cable and satellite television providers carry content from state-controlled media outlets? Should social media platforms allow links from propaganda news outlets to be shared on their platforms? What distinguishes government-controlled “news” coverage from independent journalism? How has Russia used its state-run media to advance its national interests in the past? How is it using them during its invasion of Ukraine?

Note: The ongoing war in Ukraine has resulted in an upswell of viral rumors, which we can’t comprehensively address in our Viral Rumor Rundown. For real-time misinformation updates, follow the work of professional fact-checking organizations devoting significant attention to Ukraine.

NewsLit takeaway: Digital artwork often circulates out of context, particularly when it connects with a controversial or highly emotional issue — and the iconic nature of Time magazine covers makes them a common target for artists and fabricators (see here, here, here and here). Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has sparked widespread outrage and condemnation around the globe and prompted comparisons to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. This probably factored into the speed with which this image spread across the Web, in many cases without the designer’s digital signature — “By Patrick Mulder” — in the bottom right corner. No matter how much a purported magazine cover may resonate or conflict with your views and beliefs, it’s always a good idea to confirm its authenticity before spreading it.

YES: This is a fabricated tweet mocked up to look like it was posted by CNN’s verified Twitter account.

YES: Podcast host Joe Rogan shared this image with his nearly 15 million Instagram followers on Feb. 28, then later deleted it.

YES: In 2016, Seagal was publicly granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, and in 2018 was appointed a special envoy by the Kremlin.

NewsLit takeaway: Impostor content designed to appear to come from an authoritative source is common during major breaking news events when people are eager to find and share updated information. The involvement of a celebrity — especially one with actual ties to the Russian government — only enhances the viral appeal of this example. This is a good reminder to always be wary of purported social media posts circulating as screenshots with no link to an actual post. Such images are extremely easy to create using freely available online tools.

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


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