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Misinformation

Find resources for evaluating news sources and identifying different forms of misinformation.

What is Misinformation? 

Misinformation is a general term used to describe false information. Misinformation is often spread unintentionally because it is believed to be true. Like gossip, it has the power to deceive and influence others, even though the source of the information may have intended no harm.

Disinformation is false or distorted information that is deliberately spread in order to hide the truth. An example of disinformation is a politician spreading unfounded rumours and lies about an opponent. 

Fake news is a term that refers to any kind of false news story that is created to fool or deceive its audience. "Fake news" can be a hoax or satire, it might be clickbait on social media, and it is often so well disguised, it can be hard to identify. It has also been used as a label by politicians to discredit legitimate news sources so it is wise to be suspicious when a politician uses "fake news" as an accusation against a news organization.

Image Source: "The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor" by Frederick Burr Opper is licensed under CC0 1.0 / Cropped from original

Misinformation Lexicon 

Definitions for some of the most common types of misinformation and disinformation.

Astroturfing
"Organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation)" (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)
 
Bots
"Bots that collect the information are essentially pieces of computer code that can be used to automatically respond when given the right stimulus. For example, a bot can be programmed to search the internet to find particular words...makes note of the location of those words and does something with them" (Burkhardt, 2017, p. 15)
 
Clickbait
A sensational heading or title designed to lure readers to click on a hyperlink which leads to unreliable information or content unrelated to the heading (Merriam-Webster, n.d.; Smith, 2014).
 
Conspiracy theory
"A hypothesis that attributes a specific event or phenomenon to some form of secret activity or plot, one usually orchestrated by powerful entities or individuals" (Meyer, 2013, p. 694).
 
Echo chamber
"An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered" (Echo chamber, n.d.).
 
Fact-checking
Validating whether a source is true or false. For example, one could compare a selected news with other sources (Burkhardt, 2017).
 
Fake news
Falls into two streams: (1) pseudo news presented as if newsworthy (e.g. celebrity gossip) or (2) falsehoods that appear as if true (Bartlett, 2017).
 
Filter bubbles
Are common in social media where users are only shown information that aligns with his or her interests (Burkhardt, 2017).
 
Hoax websites
Published sites intended to misinform people (List of fake news websites, n.d.).
 
Propaganda
A form of disinformation with the intent of political persuasion. It tends to be one-sided, emotionally charged, and relentless in scale and effort.
 
Pseudoscience
“A belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms” (Lower, 2013).
 
Satire or comedy
Misinformation that is created for the purpose of humour. Stories published by The Onion or The Beaverton can seem very realistic, even if bizarre so be aware.
 
Trolls
A person "whose real intention(s) is/are to cause disruption and/or trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement" (Hardaker, 2010, p. 237; Phillips, 2015, p. 17).

Astroturfing. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved January 6, 2022 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/astroturfing

Bartlett, B. (2017). The truth matters: A citizen's guide to separating facts from lies and stopping fake news in its tracks. California: Ten Speed Press.

Burkhardt, J. M. (2017). Combating fake news in the digital age. Library Technology Reports, 53(8), 5-33. Retrieved from http://auth01.norquest.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=126274669&site=ehost-live&scope=site">http://auth01.norquest.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=126274669&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Clickbait. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved March 21, 2018 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clickbait

Echo chamber. (n.d.). In English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/echo_chamber

Hardaker, C. (2010). Trolling in asynchronous computer-mediated communication: From user discussions to academic definitions. Journal of Politeness Research, 6(2), 215-242. doi:10.1515/jplr.2010.011

List of fake news websites. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fake_news_websites

Lower, S. (2013). Pseudoscience: What is it? Retrieved from http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html#NEWS

Meyer, S. (2013). Conspiracy Theories. In T. Riggs (Ed.), St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itweb/edmo88243?db=GVRL-0

Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can't have nice things: Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Smith, B. (2014). Why buzzfeed doesn't do clickbait. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/why-buzzfeed-doesnt-do-clickbait?utm_term=.fkEBeR7L5L#.shYd7lMPXP

Attribution

This lexicon was adapted from the Citizen Literacy Guide created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.