Need to Know: September 26, 2022


You might have heard: Half of U.S. adults get news at least sometimes from social media (Pew Research Center)

But did you know: How technology and infrastructure enable threats to journalists (Digital Journalism)

New research delves into how the internet enables “mob censorship” of journalists and why it can be so hard to figure out who is behind the mob. Easy public access to journalists, toxic far-right cultures on the internet and populist demonization of the mainstream press all contribute to online citizen vigilantism aimed at silencing journalists. This increasingly takes the form of online harassment, DDoS attacks and doxxing by exploiting computers and networks. The research details how attackers use the digital environment, and how journalists can mitigate those attacks.

“Systemic issues related to the lack of diversity, ongoing financial constraints, and journalistic norms of engagement, alongside a lack of internal and platform support, exacerbate repercussions from these attacks and harm journalism’s role in a democracy.”

– Jennifer R. Henrichsen and Martin Shelton, Digital Journalism

+ Noted: Nancy Barnes leaves NPR amidst restructuring (NPR); Changes continue at CNN, once again involving its media coverage (Poynter); Thomson Reuters Foundation News will launch a new media platform to contextualize news (Thomson Reuters Foundation)


Keeping opinion local: The benefits of cutting national politics from opinion sections

After a local newspaper dropped national politics from its opinion section, researchers found that polarization in the community spread more slowly. The newspaper also experienced a surge in letters to the editor from local contributors on local topics, including transportation, arts and culture, and online readership of the opinion section doubled. We spoke with one of the researchers about the implications of the study and considerations for other news outlets that are considering abandoning national opinion content. 


IWMF launches newsroom initiative to protect journalists online (International Women’s Media Foundation)

A new practical safety guide for global newsrooms aims to prepare and protect news media from digital attacks. The free guide, published by IWMF, contains step-by-step processes built on years of feedback from newsrooms and journalists. It offers ways for newsrooms to raise awareness, boost digital security, develop policies and issue statements of support on behalf of journalists. It also contains templates for safety assessments, checklists and surveys as well as ways for newsrooms to mitigate risks.


In India, debunking fake news and running into the authorities (New York Times)

Two men wary of the surge of misinformation in India started a fact checking news platform in 2017, which has since become one of India’s leaders in debunking rumors spread on social media and television news. Since its inception, Alt News has helped set the record straight on misinformation about child-kidnapping gangs and the rumor that Muslims were spreading COVID. However, calling out hate speech — even if it’s shared by government officials — has made the two founders a target for officials and anonymous critics, resulting in arrests and threats.


Is a tech company ever neutral? Cloudflare’s latest controversy shows why the answer is no (Tech Policy Press)

Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare was recently criticized for protecting one of its client’s websites despite evidence that the site’s users participate in persistent online and offline harassment and abuse. This is not the first time Cloudflare has faced this situation — in 2019, Cloudflare initially rejected the notion of cutting off service to 8chan even after three mass shooters posted their manifestos to the site, but eventually backed down after public outrage and stopped supporting the site. This current outcry resurfaces the debate as to whether service providers are responsible for moderating their users.


Verdict upends Project Veritas’s journalism defense in infiltration case (The Washington Post)

Undercover efforts by Project Veritas to infiltrate a Democratic consulting firm in 2016 do not constitute journalism and violated wiretapping laws, a D.C. federal court ruled last week. Project Veritas, which took a video sting operation approach in its series on Democracy Partners in an effort to discredit then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, claims it was using old-fashioned undercover journalism tactics. But the court’s rebuke of their methods aligns with the journalism industry’s shift away from ambush interviews and secret recording tactics, writes Erik Wemple.


A new network of news websites is quietly pushing Democratic propaganda (NewsGuard)

Five news websites launched this April in battleground states appear to be independent news outlets, covering topics such as Michigan’s museums and Pennsylvania’s lakes. But a review by NewsGuard revealed that the websites — which also publish articles in print and on social media — are connected to The American Independent, a national progressive organization run by the Democratic founder of the Media Matters website. This is the latest example of “pink slime” journalism, a tactic of partisan news sites to masquerade as local news, write Lorenzo Arvanitis and McKenzie Sadeghi.