Resource Corner

The Dangers of Disinformation and Misinformation

Learn how to protect yourself against disinformation and misinformation.


Hand holding wooden blocks with letters

The amount of disinformation and misinformation that is spread on the web is staggering. It is spread mainly via websites, social networks, and email. Hot topics include politics, government policies, religion, and various scams and hoaxes. Research reveals false rumors really do travel faster and further than the truth. What is important to understand is that sharing disinformation and misinformation can lead to fraudulent websites and malware.  Misinformation is classified as false or inaccurate information that is communicated regardless of an intention to deceive. Disinformation is bad information that is sent out on purpose.



Do you know the website or source of information? Start with a plan. Check your bearings and consider what you want to know and your purpose. Usually, a quick check is enough. Sometimes you'll want a deep investigation to verify all claims made and check all the sources.

Investigate the Source

Know the expertise and agenda of your source so you can interpret it. Look up your source on Wikipedia. Consider what other sites say about your source. A fact-checking site may help. Read carefully and consider while you click. Open multiple tabs.

Find trusted coverage

Find trusted reporting or analysis, look for the best information on a topic, or scan multiple sources to see what consensus is. Find something more in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Look beyond the first few results, use Ctrl + F, and consider the URL. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you investigate further.

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the source. What was clipped out of a story/photo/video and what happened before or after? When you read the research paper mentioned in a news story, was it accurately reported? Find the original source to see the context, so you can decide if the version you have is accurately presented.

Tips for spotting fake news on social media

  • Keep an eye out for "sponsored content" - Sponsored content often strikes a sensationalistic tone.  The next time you spot one of these, look around the area of the web page where they're placed. You should find a little graphic or snippet of text that says "Advertisement," "Paid Sponsor," or something similar. These so-called articles aren't intentionally developed to misinform you. They are likely trying to bait you into buying something.  However, in some less reputable corners of the web ads like these can take you to malicious sites that install malware or expose you to other threats.

  • Scrutinize photos or videos that accompany the story - If you see a shocking or particularly engaging photo or video in an article, take a moment to determine whether the media pertains to the main gist of the story or is intended solely to incite an emotional reaction in readers. Use a service such as Google Image Search to conduct a reverse image search. This search will show where else on the web the image appears, and it will indicate whether the image has been tampered with. For many video clips that go viral, there is additional video footage that either isn’t shown or hasn’t yet been published that tells a different story. Photos that support a certain stance or viewpoint are sometimes staged or digitally edited to misrepresent the true content. In both instances, it can be difficult to tell real from unreal.  Evaluate the trustworthiness of the immediate source of the image, the person who shared the media, and the outlet where it was originally published. A little time spent researching might show whether any of these sources has a particular agenda, or whether the person who captured or shared the photo could be spreading misinformation, intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Is the topic intended as a joke?  - Some headlines are written as satire, however, not everyone gets the joke. Before sharing a questionable or suspicious-looking news item, consider that it may be intended to be satirical or humorous.

  • Consider the reasons why someone is sharing news with you at this time - Digital technology has also led to a digital bubble for many people, who receive news and information only from sources that reinforce their existing biases and beliefs. Social media users with strong political leanings may not immediately recognize that their social media friends who echo those viewpoints are spreading fake news. It's possible that individuals who share your worldview might be knee-jerk sharing without properly vetting the source of the information.

  • Call out fake news you see in your network - but do it privately - Calling them out publicly can cause them to get defensive because it makes them look stupid or gullible for posting it in the first place.

  • Beat the social media algorithm - Platforms show us the information they think we want to see. "The articles that you have a reaction to - that you "like" or "heart" — are the ones [social media sites] will start drawing more sources from," Click on links for sites that have news articles to expand what you're shown rather than "like" or "heart".  With every page, you like or follow, and every person you friend, your social media stream fills with their posts, shares, and tweets. Add and delete sources and seek information that contradicts what you think.

  • Spot the bot warning signs - Does a person post about only one topic? Who else do they follow? Do they post or tweet hundreds of times a day, trying to get their message out before they get caught? Are there a lot of typos or grammatical errors? Do they post in multiple languages?

The Dangers of Misinformation

We tend to take written information as truth and assume it is accurate unless we know for certain that it is not. If we read something about a subject which we are not very knowledgeable about, we assume that the author has the credentials to be posting that information.

  • Misinformation regarding drugs and health remedies has proven deadly for many people around the world.

  • Misinformation through sharing emails or social media spam can expose you to fraudulent phishing websites.

  • Misinformation regarding investment advice has led to personal financial losses.
All content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and tax or accounting advisors before making any financial decisions.