Information on disinformation

Disinformation: what’s the problem?

Disinformation is the dissemination of false information with the intent to mislead audiences. It has become a global problem, reinforced by the ubiquitous presence of the internet and the fact that large swaths of people receive most of their news via social media.

To give an example: around 47 million Twitter accounts (approximately 15%) are bots. Many of these bots are used to spread political disinformation, for example during election campaigns.

Fake news and other forms of disinformation are used by various parties, including some governments, to influence public opinion, often with success. This works because many people fail to recognize false information when it’s presented to them. A recent British study indicated that only 4% of participants was able to tell fake news from real.

Recent examples of influential disinformation campaigns include the MacronLeaks during the French presidential elections in 2017, the Pizzagate controversy during the 2016 US elections, the various “alternative” explanations surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014 and the rumors circulating in Sweden about the country’s cooperation with NATO.

What’s the solution?

Disinformation can be countered in numerous ways: by changing search engines’ or social media sites’ search and display algorithms, by blocking certain websites, by mounting awareness campaigns, or through education.

The most effective method is to foster critical and well-informed news consumers. Knowledge and education are by far the best weapons against disinformation.

Inoculation theory, which has its roots in social psychology, states that people are able to build up a resistance against false or misleading information by being presented with a weakened version of a misleading argument before being exposed to the “real” information. You can see this as giving people a kind of “vaccine” against misleading information. If you can recognize it, you can resist it.

We believe that the best way to learn to recognize disinformation is to create it yourself. By taking on the role of a fake news-monger, you gain insight into the various tactics and methods used by ‘real’ disinformants to spread their message. This, in turn, builds up resistance.


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