CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Nov. 1, 2022) — The effects of misinformation and disinformation (also called “fake news”) are damaging to public trust in institutions and elections, and pose a threat to democracy itself. Learn how to spot misinformation/disinformation and steps you can take to help stop it.
What Are Misinformation and Disinformation?
Misinformation: Inadvertently sharing false information without the intent to harm. Example: Your sister says that the latest local bill will raise taxes because that’s what she heard from a trusted friend.
Disinformation: Intentionally sharing false information with the intent to harm. Example: Your sister lies that the latest local bill will raises taxes because she knows that’s the only way you won’t support it.
How to Spot Misinformation and Disinformation
We’re all susceptible to mis- and disinformation, but these steps will help you spot it:
Consider the source. Who’s sharing this information? Does the URL look strange? (For example, an “.edu” domain followed by “.co” or “lo” is often a fake site.) Check the About page for verifiable information. Is there evidence of partisanship or bias? (See AllSides’ bias rating which categorizes news outlets by ideological groups. The Pew Research Center shows trust levels of news sources by Ideological groups.) Is it an ad designed to look like news?
Check the date: It’s easy to get incensed over an article on Twitter…only to realize it was published years ago and no longer applies.
Cross-check. Check trustworthy, reliable news sources to see if they are reporting the same information. Don’t rely on social media as your news source – remember that social media and search engine algorithms often present stories that reinforce your current views, rather than a balanced perspective. Seek a variety of sources, from all sides of the political spectrum. (See AllSides Balanced News, which shows the day’s top news stories from the Left, Center and Right sources side-by-side so you can see the full picture.)
Read past the headline. You know how tabloids post scandalous headlines and follow them with articles that are relatively mundane? Unfortunately, political outlets do that too. It’s easy to take a snippet out of context to make an article look like it will be more dramatic than it actually is.
Question emotionally charged content. Is the person or post using emotionally manipulative language? That’s a red flag. Reliable sources let the facts influence your response, not emotional language. Check out some examples of loaded language.
How to Stop Misinformation and Disinformation
When you spot inaccurate information, follow these tips to keep it from spreading:
Don’t engage. Every like, click, share, and comment contributes to the piece’s rate of engagement, which tells the website that they should show it to more people and tells the search algorithms to show you more content like this. Many outlets take advantage of this, posting headlines that they know will have you firing back a response – because good or bad, that response will promote their piece. (Reader Beware: Some people are paid in either money or political influence to produce and repeat fake news via social media and the internet.)
Don’t repeat bad information. Studies show that repeating bad information, even to debunk it, makes people more likely to remember the bad information and not your accurate information. Find ways to call out the bad information without repeating it.
Do share accurate trustworthy information. Without mentioning the wrong information, set the record straight by sharing the correct messages. (See Resource List.)
Do report and block when needed. Whenever you see disinformation online, report it to ReportDisinfo.org. You can also report most social media posts to the platforms themselves. Block users you don’t know who share mis- or disinformation.
What to do if someone you know is sharing misinformation
If someone you know is sharing misinformation, contact them privately if you want to discuss it. Your friends and family probably think the content they’re sharing is true and important, and that can make it tough to talk about. Be respectful and courteous, and use a supportive and positive tone.
See the LWVDV Civil Discourse team page for suggestions on how to have courteous, constructive conversations characterized by mutual respect, openness and attentive listening.
Also see PEN America’s page with tips about How to Talk to Friends and Family Who Share Misinformation.
- Voter’s Edge California
- Contra Costa County Elections Division
- Bay Area Votes
- Easy Voter Guide
- Voting/Elections (LWVDV)
- Civic Online Reasoning (Stanford)
- California Dept of Education Media Literacy resources
- Checkology (part of the News Literacy Project)
- Digital Citizenship Curriculum
- Navigating Digital Information Crash Course
- PBS News and Media Literacy Resources
- Cyber Civics
- News LIteracy Project
- Media Literacy Now
- Media Literacy quiz
- Fake News Quiz
- Democracy, Disinformation and Distrust: A webinar hosted by the LVW Civil Discourse Network and National Institute for Civil Discourse
- NewsGuard: A tool that shows trust ratings for news and information websites as you browse the internet. Available for a monthly subscription fee.