Misinformation Today

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and not a reflection of LibLime or its affiliates.

Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve dealt with misinformation. This week we’re going to look at how misinformation impacts our world. Let’s first look at the dictionary definition. An article by the Washington Post states, “Dictionary.com defines it as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” Usually done innocently enough, but sometimes to intentionally create confusion and mistrust. I’m not about to head into politics here. I think we get enough of that from other sources. I’m referring to the bigger picture.

There’s no getting rid of it, so knowing what it looks like can help combat it.

The main culprit is social media because of easy information sharing. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post says, “For most individuals on social media, Fact-checking is an afterthought, if it is a thought at all, and misinformation thrives.” In recent years it’s become easier to share links and posts across platforms. This is revolutionary compared to 20 years ago when much of this technology wasn’t available. Pew Research states, “Many experts say public online spaces will significantly improve by 2035 if reformers, big technology firms, governments, and activists tackle the problems created by misinformation, disinformation, and toxic discourse.”

Those with ill intent use these outlets as a way to spread misinformation in the following forms:

  • Fake papers (Imposter news sites)
    • These look like ordinary online newspapers but are not. They use altered images and state false facts. ● Click-baiters

○    Defined on internetmatters.org, “These are posts, articles and videos that you may see in social feeds or websites that use dramatic headlines or claims for free items or results to get as many people to click on the article, i.e. ‘you won’t believe what…’. They may have eye-catching images and emotive or humorous tone to get people’s attention.”

  • Bad ads
    • These are ads that contain links to viruses and fake products. They look like they might be real ads, but they are not.
  • Hackers
    • If you fall victim to click-bait or click on a bad ad, you’re at a very high risk of being hacked. This can result in identity theft.
  • Headliners
    • We’ve all seen sensationalist headlines that make you think, “what on earth?!” Your subsequent reaction might be sharing it without reading the article. These article headlines are designed to do just that.
  • Populists
    • This is when people use false stories to gain an audience. The people who believe the content do so because the person providing it has earned their trust or favor.
  • Satire/comedy sites
    • Sites like these mean to be funny and state this intent clearly. However, sometimes people don’t realize that and think the story is true.
  • Bots
    • When people hear the term bot, they might think of a robot. This isn’t wrong, as a bot is a “fake profile, mainly on social media… created to spread fake news using automated technology.” ● Misleading content

○        Commonly referred to as fake news. Internetmatters.org defines it as “Articles or news stories that use fake facts to distort a particular issue or an individual.”

  • Phishing
    • This isn’t fun fishing involving water, bait, and fishing pole. It’s the dangerous kind where the sender tries to manipulate the receiver into providing compromising information. The most common form of phishing scams is via email. These can land in your junk folder but can be mistaken for a real message.
  • Deep Fakes
    • This kind of video misinformation has become more prevalent as technology advances. It’s where someone’s face, usually a famous person, is manipulated by technology to make it look like they are saying something. It can easily look authentic to the untrained eye and tricks many people. ● Sock puppet accounts

○    These accounts are on social media platforms and exist solely to mislead and misinform people while pretending to be a legitimate sources.

There are many ways misinformation has irreversibly impacted our world, and knowing what it can look like does help. There’s no sure-fire way to be rid of it entirely without extreme measures, so it’s best to simply know what it looks like so you can avoid it.

By Gretchen Hendrick Gardella, MLIS

Gretchen Hendrick Gardella is a Librarian with administrative, research, and vast technical skills. Ms. Gardella brings over 16 years of experience working in academic and public libraries to the discussion.