Misinformation is also used as a term to denote propaganda. It is considered black propaganda as its purpose is to intentionally disseminate fake information with the aim of misleading the public. The term originates from the Russian word “Disinformation” («Дезинформация») which was the name of a department in the State Security Committee (KGB) of the Soviet Union, working on black propaganda.
Fake news is a piece of information in which facts are intentionally falsified or distorted. Fake news could be disseminated through traditional as well as social media with two possible goals:
1. Political – with domestic political goals or in the event of external actors’ interest, which is called information influence activities;
2. For financial profit – a so-called “clickbait” attracts audience by means of sensational headlines and fake news, making money from clicks.
Three provisional types of fake information can be distinguished:
1. Invented news – fabrication
2. Manipulative content
3. Satire and humour
Half-truth: Information which contains elements of truth. This kind of information might be true in most part but contain a word, a sentence that are untrue or provide a fake context, words with dual meaning may be manipulated and so on. The goal of mixing truth and lies is to intentionally mislead the public.
Manipulation with numbers: Numbers are used out of context, disregarding specific time and environment. The author of manipulation tries to shift the attention to numbers in order to add credibility to his or her arguments. The numbers cited may be accurate but irrelevant with regard to specific facts.
Fake context: Information may be accurate but the context – erroneous and misleading.
Discrepancies: Information in which headline/visual/description does not match the story itself.
Five ways of identifying fake information
Check source credibility
- Domain name: Do not trust websites with unusual endings such as “.com.co”, “.co” and others.
- Mission statement: Check the “About us” section. Information could be satirical and might not reflect reality.
- Author: Check the identity of the author of the report. Have you heard his or her name before? Has he or she written any other articles or prepared other stories and on which topics? Is his or her contact information available? What reputation does the author have?
- Quotes: Check the accuracy of the quotes provided in the material. Whose words are they? Is the author of the quotes indicated correctly? Keep in mind that the quote and the author may be indicated correctly but the author may have said it in a completely different context.
- Sources: See if the information is supported by relevant sources. Check these sources yourself to see if they are credible. Does this information correspond to that disseminated by the initial source? Propaganda groups often manipulate statistics, so find the source of the statistical data, the research institution, and check credibility of the research methodology.
Check the date: Propaganda groups often disseminate outdated information in accordance with a given context, thus misleading the users. In addition, checking the date helps us check the story itself.
Look up the same information in other sources as well: Check if the story is disseminated by only one source of information or is it covered by other media outlets as well. Pay attention to the credibility and reputation of the outlets which disseminated identical information. This will help you determine whether the disseminated news is real or fake.
Markers of fake information
In social networks:
- Suspicious pages from which information is being disseminated;
- Unbelievable, shocking information;
- Viral dissemination of certain information;
- Absence of indication of original source.
In TV media:
- Unbelievable stories;
- Anxious and emotional wording;
- Discrepancy between the images and the claims made by a journalist;
- Evaluative rhetoric by a journalist;
- “Eyewitness testimonies” that are impossible to verify.
In print and online media:
- Use of unidentified sources, rumours that are impossible to verify;
- Artificially unifying unrelated events in one story;
- Use of emotionally-charged words when describing people and events;
- Categorical evaluative discourse;
- Calls for action.