Dealing with disinformation and misinformation

Graphic by @urbanmuralhunter, image by Terence Faircloth, released via Creative Commons
Graphic by @urbanmuralhunter, image by Terence Faircloth, released via Creative Commons

I personally think there is no such thing as “fake news.” If the information is fake, then it’s not news.

News, of course, should always be accurate, and where there is uncertainty or controversy – this should be made clear.

There are people who knowingly or mistakenly create or pass on information which is not accurate, and this can more precisely be referred to as “disinformation” and “misinformation.”

  • Disinformation – like dishonest – means it’s deliberately false.
  • Misinformation – like mistake – means there wasn’t a deliberate intention to create or pass on false or misleading information. It was a mistake.


It is worth considering why someone would want to create disinformation. This will help you identify it. You need to understand their motivation. It could be:

  • Financial or commercial gain
  • Ambition or power
  • A belief, faith or allegiance which overrides reason and facts
  • A desire to cause trouble or disruption

Ask yourself what the creator of the content stands to gain by sharing the information.

Will they financially benefit? Are they trying to discredit a competitor or political rival? Are they a fervent believer of a certain way of thinking and trying to persuade others to share their views? Are they trying to frighten people or cause confusion with their content?

People who are trying to entertain or amuse others – usually make clear that their content is a parody or satire – but not always.

Use your common sense.

If the content is making a claim of commercial gain or large profits – investigate further.

If the content contains accusations of wrongdoing against a named individual or organisation – where is the evidence and the right to reply?

Headlines and introductions which promise to reveal something previously unknown or which play on your emotions – need to be treated cautiously.

Of course, a talented journalist knows how to write a headline which arouses an audience’s curiosity but they also deliver on what they promise in the body of the story.

Misinformation may have occurred because the information or pictures were believed and/or weren’t checked thoroughly before being published.

To identify misinformation it is important to check back, step by step to the original source of the information – this technique of investigating is called the Trust Chain.

Dealing with misinformation or disinformation?

If the content has been published on a mainstream media outlet – then you can inform the editorial team.

If it has been published on a social media platform it can also be reported to their moderators.

In some countries, social media companies are regulated by a government-approved regulatory body – you could also complain to them.

However, be careful about getting into an argument with individual commentators who are peddling false information as this can drive traffic to their accounts and websites and increase their exposure and even add to the revenue they receive.

There are many media literacy websites which offer advice on how to deal with misinformation and disinformation.

The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) sets a code of ethics for fact-checking organisations. The IFCN reviews fact-checkers for compliance with its code and issues a certification to publishers who pass the audit.

The certification lasts for one year, and fact-checkers must be re-examined annually to retain their certifications. It is part of the Poynter organisation.

Check that the fact-checker you use is verified by the International Fact-Checking Network.