Fake News

Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation in the Media

Much content on the Internet is neither credible nor honest. Technology has made it easier to communicate, but also to misinform and disinform, and watch the result go viral, as did the phony story about President Trump’s resignation in the fake edition of the Washington Post.

We become misinformed when we trust the content of an article that is poorly researched or poorly argued. If that happens, we’re guilty of not having been critical enough while reading.

We face a greater challenge, however, when writers and publishers deliberately try to disinform us by getting us to believe something that isn’t true.

Thanks to ever more impressive audio, photo and video manipulation software, it’s now easier for a motivated individual or organization to alter recordings, photographs and even video without the alterations being easy to detect.

To be sure that they weren’t being fooled when they received a compromising video of an Austrian politician, the news site Spiegel Online waited for two forensic experts to declare the video authentic before trusting its content and publishing an article about the video.

There is no official definition for fake news. The British Government decided that the term is too imprecise to be used in its policy documents. Officials described it as “a poorly-defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes.”

President Trump has added to the uncertainty about what constitutes fake news. In an article on the American Bar Association website, President Trump is said to have “applied the label of fake news to virtually any media […] he disagrees with or doesn’t like.”

The motivations for creating news stories that contain deliberately incorrect information vary. They can range from providing entertainment on sites like The Onion to making money through clickbait to affecting the outcomes of an election.

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2019 of 6,127 American adults, half of the respondents said they have shared made-up news and most of those people said they weren’t aware the news was phony when they shared it.

The same Pew Research Center survey also found that half of respondents viewed made-up news as a very big problem in America.

The best way to protect ourselves against sources that disinform is to be skeptical about any new information source and apply the CRAAP test thoroughly. If no established information source can confirm the same facts, we protect ourselves best by remaining skeptical about the new source.

The article "Six Fake News Techniques and Simple Tools to Vet Them" by Olga Yurkova explains how to detect if a photo or video has been altered. It also presents common techniques that are used to distort information and to make phony information look credible. Here are quick links to specific parts of the article:

  1. Photo manipulation: Google Reverse Search works for simpler cases.
  2. Manipulating videos: Close examination of the video and finding the original video are among the lessons here.
  3. Manipulating the news: Watch for deceptive headlines, opinions presented as facts, distortions, made-up facts and neglected details.
  4. Manipulation with expert assessments: Check experts' credentials and statements, and even whether the person is real.
  5. Manipulation with media messages: Watch for false claims attributed to mainstream media.
  6. Manipulations with data: Look at the research methodology, the questions, the clients and more.

Here are some more links with tips for spotting articles that disinform. If you don't have a habit of checking URLs for odd sounding top-level domains, it's time to start. As two of the links that follow explain, .com is normal, but .com.co is not.

Useful links: