It is vital to know what fake news, mis- and disinformation are, what influence it has on the reader and how to spot it. This is because what you read in the media has a huge effect on how you look at the world around you. If you are being fed false information that you believe to be true, it can truly cause a lot of damage.

That is why media update’s Talisa Carlson digs deeper to see exactly what, how and why this is found within the news.

Ready to take a closer look? Then take out your magnifying glass and let’s get to it:

What is misinformation?

Misinformation refers to content that has been taken out of context and poses as facts. This is an issue that is evident in the media industry, as seen with information surrounding the pandemic.

Misinformation is easily shared amongst people, even though they are not 100% sure if it is indeed factual. This is because the reader might not be aware that it is actually incorrect.

This type of information is misleading and contains false information, but it is spread without the intention of causing damage or harm.

For example, a blogger might have only read an article’s headline on social media and then wrote an opinion piece on that. In the blog they are writing, there could be a lot of 'information' and the blogger may not mean any harm when writing the piece. But in this same piece, there is a clear lack of facts and research.

What is disinformation?

Disinformation is content that is deliberately created for the purpose to deceive and manipulate the public for the entity’s own agenda.

This type of information can be found in blogs that might be run by political parties (without the public being aware of it) to push out content that contains disinformation to push a certain agenda.

As readers consume a lot of news daily, one would think that it will be easy for people to spot disinformation; so why does it continue to thrive? The simple answer: People believe what they want to believe.

That is why there is so much disinformation surrounding politics, the pandemic and even when it comes to racial issues. Readers need to be extremely cautious of this type of news because it can cause a lot of damage.

For example, “in 1946, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company began making a bold claim in its advertisements, saying, ‘More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!’”

The company made claims that Camels cigarettes assist with a wide range of health issues, and this was published in the mainstream media. A lot of people soon after started smoking, not knowing that they had been disinformed.

So where does fake news fit in?

Since misinformation and disinformation are essentially false facts, you might wonder if it isn't just — well — fake news as well? And the answer is no.

When it comes to fake news, the intention is all about pushing an agenda and “purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news.”

Fake news is also referred to as false information by industry professionals and its main focus is to damage a person’s reputation or evoke a specific emotion within the reader.

This is very evident in the political setting, for example, because politicians want to create hype surrounding themselves or their opposers.

How can you spot misinformation, disinformation and fake news?

Knowing how to be on the lookout for information that is not true is essential if you want to protect yourself from manipulation and content that can cause harm. It can be easy to just accept whatever you read on social media to be true because it fits what you believe. Yet, that is not the way to look at the news.

Here are four questions to ask yourself to spot false content:

1. Does the message seem emotionally charged?
Remember, when a journalist is reporting back on happenings that took place, they won’t be emotionally invested. They will focus on reporting the facts.

2. Does the content seem biased?
In ethical journalism, you won’t find content that is biased. This means that the journalist will just talk about the facts and not provide their own personal opinion.

3. Did big news outlets cover the same story?
If you come across news that seems a bit far-fetched, it’s best to head over to Google and do research. Have big publications talked about the issue? If not, it might be a clear indication that it’s fake information.

4. Does the person who posted this have other social media accounts?
Ever wanted to be an FBI agent? Because now is your chance! Doing research on the person or account who posted a story is a great way to debunk any false content. 

For example, if it is posted on a blog, does the blog have social media accounts? Do these accounts link back to reliable sources? Did the person who posted it have an active social media account? If you answered no to most of the questions, accept it to be fake.

What are some other tips you have for readers to spot false information? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about different kinds of false content? Then be sure to read Five types of fake news and how to spot them.
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