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Critical Thinking About Sources

Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation

According to the American Psychological Association: 

Misinformation is false or inaccurate information—getting the facts wrong. Disinformation is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead—intentionally misstating the facts.

The spread of misinformation and disinformation has affected our ability to improve public health, address climate change, maintain a stable democracy, and more. By providing valuable insight into how and why we are likely to believe misinformation and disinformation, psychological science can inform how we protect ourselves against its ill effects.

Term Definition Source

fake news

"purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news"

Fake News: Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age 
misinformation "false content that is unintentionally or unknowingly disseminated" Essential Guide to Understanding Information Disorder
disinformation "false content that is intentionally disseminated with intent to harm" Essential Guide to Understanding Information Disorder

How to Spot Fake News: Covid-19 Edition

screenshot of how to spot fake news infographic which includes text and iconsPlease see the list below or download the PDF for the infographic.

  1. Consider the source: Is there an author? Check out their credentials on relevant issues.
  2. Read beyond: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. what's the whole story?
  3. Supporting sources? Click on links or check with official sources. Do they support the story?
  4. Do others agree? Are any other sites reporting this? What sources are they citing?
  5. Is it a joke? If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the source to be sure.
  6. Check your biases: Consider if your own beliefs or concerns could affect your judgement.
  7. Ask the Experts: Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site, official source like the WHO.
  8. Look before you share: Don't share posts or stories that you haven't checked out first!

Beyond ''Fake News' 10 Types of Misleading News

beyond fake news infographic with a table and chart with text

  1. Propaganda
    • Impact = neutral
    • Motivation = passion, politics/power
    • adopted by governments, corporations and non-profits to manage attitudes, values and knowledge
    • appeals to emotions
    • can be beneficial or harmful
  2. Clickbait
    • Impact = low
    • Motivation = money, humor/fun
    • eye catching, sensational headlines designed to distract
    • often misleading and content may not reflect headline
    • drives ad revenue
  3. Sponsored Content
    • Impact = low
    • Motivation = money
    • advertising made to look like editorial
    • potential conflict of interest for genuine news organizations
    • consumers might not identify content as advertising if it is not clearly labeled
  4. Satire and Hoax
    • Impact = low
    • Motivation = humor/fun
    • social commentary or humor
    • varies widely in quality and intended meaning may not be apparent
    • can embarrass people who confuse the content as true
  5. Error
    • Impact = low
    • Motivation = (mis)inform
    • established news organizations sometimes make mistakes
    • mistakes can hurt the brand, offend or result in litigation
    • reputable organizations publish apologies
  6. Partisan
    • Impact = medium
    • Motivation = passion, politics/power
    • ideological and includes interpretation of facts but may claim to be impartial
    • privileges facts that conform to the narrative whilst forgoing others
    • emotional and passionate language
  7. Conspiracy Theory
    • Impact = high
    • Motivation = passion, (mis)inform
    • tries to explain simply complex realities as a response to fear or uncertainty
    • not falsifiable and evidence that refutes the conspiracy is regarded as further proof of the conspiracy
    • rejects experts and authority
  8. Pseudoscience
    • Impact = high
    • Motivation = politics/power, money
    • purveyors of greenwashing, miracle cures, anti-vaccination and climate change denial
    • misrepresents real scientific studies with exaggerated or false claims
    • often contradicts experts
  9. Misinformation
    • Impact = high
    • Motivation = (mis)inform
    • includes a mix of factual, false or partly-false content
    • intention can be to inform but author may not be aware the content is false
    • false attributions, doctored content and misleading headlines
  10. Bogus (Fake)
    • Impact = hgh
    • Motivation = politics/power, money
    • entirely fabricated content spread intentionally to disinform
    • guerrilla marketing tactics; bots, comments and counterfeit branding
    • motivated by ad revenue, political influence or both