We’ve been hearing a great deal about misinformation and disinformation in online, social spaces. These two topics differ on intent. That makes it much harder to differentiate. You need to know/understand what the purpose or sincerity of the sender. You also need to consider if you’re willing to question what they’re communicating…or if you’ll blindly believe.
Misinformation is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead. Misinformation is often considered to be unintentional sharing. When people spread misinformation, they often believe the information they are sharing.
Disinformation is “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda. Disinformation is considered to be the intentional creation or sharing of false or misleading information. Disinformation is often shared with the goal of misleading others.
Why does this matter?
Not only are individuals ill-equipped to critically evaluate online information, they are also being actively targeted with measures to fool them.
Ultimately, this erodes public trust in truth. It makes it harder for individuals to discern what is credible and relevant information. Individuals then decide to tune out, ignore, or turn back to the networks and signals that support their worldview.
This is exacerbated as bad (and unwitting) actors seek to exploit this situation. Ultimately a mix of real, hoax, and more-reliable/less reliable sites compete for your attention. Individuals just get confused and shutdown.
The battle over mis/disinformation begins and ends with you.
You need to strive for balance in terms of what is correct and incorrect. You need to not be gullible and trust that information is credible and relevant just because it is printed online. You also should not be paranoid that all information online is incorrect. You need to understand that all information contains a certain amount of truth and fiction. It is your job to decide how useful (relevant) and truthful (credible) is your information and source.
This infographic from EAVI helps explain the different types of information you’ll encounter. Click through for the graphic in multiple languages.
You should ultimately strive to be a healthy skeptic as you interact with others and consume information online. A health skeptic thinks critically about everything, not just things you don’t agree with. A healthy skeptic thinks critically about your own knowledge, bias, and perspectives. A healthy skeptic “thinks like a scientist” as they consume content. A scientist thinks empirically about a problem, not ideologically.
Responsibility of Social Networks
Social networks and developers of digital tools/platforms also bear a certain amount of responsibility.
The Center for American Progress indicates that social networks should include a series of changes to impact the spread of mis/disinformation on their networks. Please Note: This guidance is primarily for the coronavirus, I edited their comments to be more expansive:
Dig In Deeper
- Virality circuit breakers. Platforms should detect, label, suspend algorithmic amplification, and prioritize rapid review and fact-checking of trending content that displays reliable misinformation markers, which can be drawn from the existing body of mis/disinformation.
- Scan-and-suggest features. Platforms should develop privacy-sensitive features to scan draft posts, detect drafts discussing specific issues, and suggest quality information to users or provide them cues about being thoughtful or aware of trending mis/disinformation prior to publication.
- Subject matter context additions. Social media platforms should embed quality information and relevant fact checks around posts on topics. Providing in-post context by default can help equip users with the information they need to interpret the post content for themselves.
This handbook from UNESCO is developed for journalists and journalism educators, but it includes information to help make sense of this battle. The resource is available in multiple languages.
They also share several modules to help you dig in deeper.
- Truth, Trust and Journalism: Why it Matters
- Thinking about “Information Disorder”: Formats of Misinformation, Disinformation and Mal-information
- News Industry Transformation: Digital Technology, Social Platforms and the Spread of Misinformation and Disinformation
- Combatting Disinformation and Misinformation Through Media and Information Literacy (MIL)
- Fact-Checking 101
- Social Media Verification: Assessing Sources and Visual Content
- Combatting Online Abuse: When Journalists and Their Sources are Targeted