Disinformation Wars Scaling Up

Disinformation is as old as the homo sapiens species. But the ability to create misleading information and deep fakes continuously gets better and more vicious, and the speed at which it can spread gets faster. It’s easy to say, “get your news from trusted sources” and “use common sense,” but the deceptions are sophisticated.

Disinformation is the blend between misinformation and malinformation. Misinformation can be simple or significant unintentional mistakes such as an error in statistics or translations. Malinformation can be the purposeful change of private information for personal, business or, as we’ve seen in this election cycle, political interests. Disinformation is the deliberate changing and manipulating content to spread rumors, conspiracy theories and propaganda.

Disinformation is difficult to distinguish and anyone is susceptible, including professional TV and radio show hosts. Even when news organizations discover disinformation or malinformation and edit or retract their stories, fire journalists etc., there are far-reaching consequences.

We applaud the efforts that social media are taking to call out and remove the deliberate dissemination of lies and distortions. Because anyone with the technical ability can game the algorithms used by social media, we do need humans to make some judgment calls. Those humans work for the social media companies, but you are also a human who can apply intelligence to judging the truth of any social media post or news item.

The consensus is that some 3.5 billion people worldwide engage through social media. Facebook is by far the largest social media organization, but with many social media organizations claiming hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users, it’s clear that we all visit several every day. Some 500 videos are uploaded every minute to YouTube.

With that said, here are some fact-checking tips and tools, starting with the tips.

  • Consider the source of the information. Is it legitimate or proven to be reliable? You don’t have to agree with the source’s point of view, but you should respect its integrity.
  • Read past the headline. Don’t assume the entire story is true, especially if the headline is worded in a way that catches your attention.
  • Check up on the author. Reputable news organizations use bylines to identify who reported and wrote the story. Reporters often have bios at the end of a story.
  • Don’t assume information is correct just because it confirms your beliefs.
  • Check the date. Information from the past can be manipulated into looking like up-to-date facts.

If you assume that everything you see on social media or on any news site needs some fact-checking, here are some sites you can visit.

  • Politifact is a fact-checking website that verifies elected officials’ statements. It has its most recent posts on its home page, but you can find extensive links to check out just about any specific candidate.
  • FactCheck.Org aims to reduce the level of deception in U.S. politics. On the right side of its home page, you can select specific topics for investigation, and it also has a “misinformation directory” organized alphabetically of websites that have published misleading information.
  • Snopes is one of the oldest fact-checkers on the internet.
  • The Daily Dot put together a list of fake websites that appeared on Facebook. While the link dates back to April, you can find current information once you get on the website.
  • Google Fact-Check Explorer can tell you if a fact or claim has been investigated by a fact-checking organization. Its home page is wide open. You’ll need to enter a name or phrase to get the fact-checker started.
  • Media Bias Fact Check can either confirm your suspicions or enlighten you. Use the search function to enter a specific news outlet. You can also learn a bit about the website’s methodology.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, you can expect more disinformation on the internet, especially in social media and on websites designed specifically to spread false information. We hope you find the websites we’ve mentioned useful in helping you make up your own mind and in deciding what to share. If you have similar sites to share or tips on evaluating information on the internet, we invite you to leave a comment or post it on our Sterling Rose Facebook page.