1000 x 90

LETTERS / Is Newsela a Trojan Horse? You Decide

Dear Editor,

After reading Jay Fenwick’s response to Mark Murphy, I remained curious with regards to his endorsement of Newsela, the teaching supplement purchased by the Watauga Board of Education. I was neither for nor against Newsela and expected in advance to find both positive and negative aspects. Here’s what I found: 

The initial evidence supports Fenwick’s claim that Newsela is widely used (although not to the extent that Newsela and Fenwick claim). Newsela’s website is somewhat transparent about their selection process. Newsela and its partners dominate multiple pages on the internet with good news about its uses and effectiveness. Manipulating internet searches is a favorite tool of marketers and Big Tech and is part of their cyber tradecraft. Big Tech likes to relegate critics to the back pages where they are less likely to be found. So, after four pages of “goodness” I finally came across something that caused me to believe Newsela may need to be more carefully vetted before its used with school aged children. 

On February 25, 2021 Newsela entered a $100 million financing arrangement with The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. That’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. While this is not an indictment of either, there are several connection points about which parents should be informed. 

In 2020 the “House Anti-Trust Committee revealed documents showing Mark Zuckerberg as explicitly predatory in his business methods.” The Senate hearing concluded Facebook can  “micro-target emotionally vulnerable teens.” 

In 2020 the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donated $350 million to The Center for Tech and Civil Life (CTCL), a 501(C)(3) charity specifically prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for political office. In 2020, CTCL donated all $350 million to county election offices, 90% of which went to drive turnout in democratic areas like the counties around Atlanta, and in the states of Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Arizona. All were states with alleged irregularities during the 2020 election. You can check the records with The Capital Research Center or the Washington Post, New York Times or on Influencewatch.org.  

The New York Times reported” the prospect of election administrators tapping large pools of private money has raised new legal and political questions. That is partly because it is unusual for elections to be subsidized by nongovernmental funding at this level, but also because most of the cash is coming from nonprofit groups that have liberal ties…”  

Zuckerberg has also been accused of spreading an addictive product in Facebook’s technological algorithms, the harm for which has yet to be fully uncovered. Tim Kendall, former Facebook Executive told Congress in 2020 that the company made its product “as addictive as cigarettes” because they needed people to spend more time using their product in order to monetize it through advertising and grow their business.  

The editor of Newsela, Jennifer Coogan, in October 2016 began a program to teach students how to spot “Fake News”. This is a very ambitious and honorable goal worthy of support. Kids are taught to ask “Where did these facts come from?” “Is there a bias?” “What’s missing?” This is the same healthy skepticism that leads to healthy debate and why I’m reporting this information in this letter.  

Here’s the crux: The deciders Newsela uses to determine what is reliable or what is “Fake News” or disinformation is made up of: 

The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Tribune Center Agency, & The Scientific American. 

The Washington Post is unquestionably a left leaning publication owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. This paper endorses predominantly Democratic candidates. Most recently the Washington Post refused to confirm the authenticity of the documents found on Hunter Biden’s laptop in advance of the 2020 election. On March 30, 2022 the paper was finally forced to admit they had wrongly declared the documents “laughably weak” “ridiculous” and “fake news” in the weeks before the 2020 election. 

The Guardian is Britain’s mainstream left liberal paper. “The term ‘Guardian reader’ is used to imply a stereotype of liberal left-wing or politically correct.” The Guardian continues even now to ignore the authenticity of the documents on Hunter Biden’s laptop even though almost all other mainstream media outlets have verified it. 

The Tribune Content Agency is a center rated organization owned by The Chicago Tribune. 

The Scientific American is supposedly a non-political publication that purports to seek scientific facts. In 2020 this supposed non-political publication endorsed Joe Biden. Regardless of your politics the alignment of such publications with political figures should be an indicator of what you might expect from the source.  

In 2002 the English version of a book by Bjourn Lomborg titled “The Skeptical Environmentalist” was published. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal praised the work as brilliant. In it, the author statistically challenged “certain aspects of global warming as not being supported by the relevant data.” Environmental groups were not happy and went to work canceling Lomborg and his work. Lomborg is not a denier of global warming but takes issue with the economic and political approaches being taken to meet the challenges of climate change. The Scientific American was at ground zero in the impeachment of his work.  

By now you’ve figured the fox is in the hen house. And it should beg the next questions. How can a non-political publication endorse political candidates and still be non-political? How can the Washington Post or the Guardian be deciders of what’s fact and what’s fake after they themselves are guilty of “Fake News” and disinformation on the eve of the last presidential election? 

How can the public have confidence that the biases of the Washington Post or Scientific American or the Guardian or Mark Zuckerberg are not winding their way into the article selection for their partner, Newsela? And how can we have confidence that Newsela itself then, has no biases? 

I’m sure Newsela has done some good. I’m sure many teachers have used it properly to good end. I commend them. But given who Newsela has decided to invite to have impact on their product, I am unconvinced they should be allowed to be arbiters of the Truth with school-aged children. And as a father of two elementary school-aged children, I am very concerned. 

Terry Oldham
Boone, N.C.