The American Federation for Teachers (AFT), our nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, has paired with NewsGuard to help suss out the mass amounts of misinformation seen across the internet. In theory this teaming could alleviate any worry parents may have concerning misinformation their children may run across as they undertake classroom or homework assignments. But will it? Will bringing NewsGuard’s anti-misinformation tool to the classroom actually squash concerns or will it create even more? Here’s what we know about whether NewsGuard is unbiased and actually doing what they say they will.
How NewsGuard Works
NewsGuard is an internet browser extension. It is a tool, according to their website and AFTs president Randi Weingarten, that allows internet users (in this case, students) the ability to access “trust ratings for more than 7,500 news and information websites”. According to Weingarten, the deal with NewsGuard is a game-changer for the millions and millions who find themselves lost in a sea of online dishonesty.
“We are constantly trying to help our students, particularly our middle, high school, and post-secondary students, separate fact from fiction, as we help them develop their critical-thinking and analytical skills,” Weingarten said when the team-up was announced. NewsGuard was founded in 2018 by Steven Brill, a leading entrepreneur and award-winning journalist, along with former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz and rates news and information websites that provide for more than 95% of online engagement.
To get these ratings, which NewsGuard calls real-time “traffic light” ratings, they use nine criteria to get a total score. These criteria include whether a site continues to publish information they deem to be false, whether a site corrects or clarifies its errors on a regular basis, whether a site avoids deceptive headlines, and whether a particular website chooses to disclose who owns it and who is financing the website. You can see all their scoring criteria here.
NewsGuard then awards weighted points based on the nine criteria. After summing up the points, they then go to the “traffic light” rating, giving sites a green, yellow, or red rating. Green means NewsGuard approves of the site and kids can move about it without any concern. Red means stop, do not proceed and if you do, you are doing so at your own peril and your homework assignment will probably also be given some “red.” Yellow, in NewsGuard’s opinion, means the site is satire or humor. This site is one that NewsGuard says is not a real news website. While they don’t give satire sites an actual number score, they do give the site a vetting and offer whatever information they can about it.
Teaming Up With Teachers Unions
“This partnership with the AFT greatly accelerates our news literacy efforts at exactly the right time. We’ve been able to get our news reliability ratings tool into more than 800 public libraries, where 7 million public library patrons use NewsGuard when they go to the library for their broadband access. And we’re already being used in dozens of public schools and universities, as well as independent schools,” said Brill of the new deal with AFT.
AFT’s Weingarten lamented where she thought the country stood as far as news reporting was concerned. “The hallmark of good journalism is fair, richly sourced reporting that gives citizens an insight into how the world works,” Weingarten said. “Sadly, the foundational role of the fourth estate is in danger of being poisoned by torrents of trash. NewsGuard reminds us of the importance of an independent press that students can rely on to form their own views and opinions so they can participate as active citizens in our democracy.”
Although the AFT is extremely pleased with the NewsGuard pairing, it probably won’t shock you to find out that not everyone is on board with this move by the AFT. The Media Research Center (MRC), billed as a conservative watchdog, is firmly against this team-up and is not staying quiet about it. “The left has found a dangerous and equally disingenuous new way to indoctrinate our children, without their parents knowing,” MRC President Brent Bozell said via Fox News. Bozell is not only against what AFT and NewsGuard are doing, but he even says that it is worse than CRT (critical race theory).
“NewsGuard is partnering with a national teacher’s union to bring their biased ratings into classrooms nationwide. This is as bad as CRT. In fact, it’s worse,” Bozell said. “Like CRT, it is designed to push a leftist ideology on children, but unlike CRT, the left is not going to give it a name this time. This is purposely designed to go under the radar of public scrutiny.”
Is NewsGuard Actually Unbiased?
To prove his point, MRC’s associate editor, Joseph Vazquez, went for a deep dive to look at NewsGuards ratings and found some “extraordinary left-wing bias.” According to Vazquez’s findings, “Liberal outlets were rated 27 points higher on average than news organizations on the right.” Vazquez’s study was based on a list compiled by AllSides and showed that 93% of the liberal websites NewsGuard rated were deemed credible while only 63% of right-leaning outlets were said to be. “According to NewsGuard’s skewed ratings, left-leaning outlets have substantially more “credibility” on average than right-leaning outlets,” Vazquez wrote in his report. “The trend is very disturbing.”
So, what is more disturbing? The information that MRC has dug up or the fact that NewsGuard is in many schools. Are they one and the same? The AFT and NewsGuard (Weingarten and Brill) claim to be on the up and up while those opposing the move (MRC) say they aren’t. And again, as we’ve said numerous times in the past, who is stuck in the middle but your children.