Misinformation is more prevalent than ever, here’s how to spot it

Social media apps can be hard to leave.

Social media apps can be hard to leave.


The term “fake news” has been widely used by critics of news outlets to discredit and invalidate information with which they disagree. Since then, disinformation, or so-called disinformation campaigns, have taken root on social media.

There are a host of disinformation campaigns related to COVID-19, civil rights efforts, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and any presidential administration.

Statist, a Market and Consumer Data Company, reports that only 26% of Americans are confident in their ability to spot misinformation, while 67% believe misinformation leads to widespread confusion. Another study from Statista shows that due to misinformation, trust in traditional news sources has declined by 18% since 2016.

Whether you’re browsing Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram or having a conversation about politics with family and friends, it’s important to be on the lookout for misinformation. Try adopting these six tips to stay accurately informed on hot topics.

Beware of unknown sources of information

It is not uncommon for independently run blogs to present themselves as news outlets. Logos, branding, and other marketing elements can make a site appear more legitimate than it actually is.

Generally speaking, unauthorized news outlets that are not recognized by the Federal Communications Commission do not have a system of checks and balances. This means that these outlets are free to post whatever they want without consequence. This includes information designed to confuse and influence readers.

Be sure to pay attention to a site’s URL before trusting it. Sometimes authors try to disguise themselves as major news outlets like CNN or ABC News. In this case, you will notice that the web address of the site looks abnormal because it contains an extra letter or an unnecessary number.

Review the comment on the post

If you’re lucky, the internet will have already done the heavy lifting for you. Before sharing photos and videos related to world events, be sure to check the comments section for other users who have already managed to prove the content to be inaccurate.

In many cases, journalists from verified accounts, news outlets, and even social media platforms call out misinformation and give full context.

Use fact-checking resources

If you’re concerned that the media you share may not be completely accurate, use independent fact-checking resources. Websites like snopes, PolitiFactand fact checker by the Washington Post specialize in sorting fact from fiction when certain topics are in vogue.

Stay up to date with world news

It would be hard for fake news writers to trick you if you were already on them. Keeping up with world news can help add an extra layer of caution.

For example, if you know that Russia has stepped up its disinformation campaign efforts in recent weeks, you are likely more likely to stay alert.

More than that, if you are educated on the nuances of the Russian and Ukrainian conflict, you can easily spot propaganda that might be aimed at building sympathy for Russian leaders while simultaneously disparaging the Ukrainian government.

Learn how to spot bots and crafted profiles

As technology advances, the hidden dangers that come with it also increase. One of the most common ways misinformation is spread, especially in the United States, is by social media bot accounts and fake profiles. By knowing the red flags to watch out for, you can avoid being tricked by those accounts that are intentionally designed to mislead and misinform.

A fake profile will often have a very generic and manufactured feel. The user bio can seem insincere and you will notice that these accounts usually only post one topic.

For example, if a bot impersonating a doctor is launched to spread misinformation about the pandemic, the profile will include a biography filled with fake credentials. The account will have very few followers and you will see that the account was only recently created. Additionally, you may notice that the feed only contains repetitive speech related to COVID-19.

Sometimes during election season, bots pose as the average “Joe” or “Jane”. They’ll adopt the persona of a working man, Indiana mother, or maybe even a retired veteran. Their feeds are usually filled with strong opinions on current affairs that aim to target and persuade a specific audience.

A Twitter user, who claims to be a “Christian, husband, father of 4, army vet and father of 2 soldiers”, joined the platform in June 2020 and has since dedicated his feed to tweeting about COVID-19 to their 61 subscribers.

In one of 3,000 tweets since 2020, the otherwise anonymous user posted the following:

“Covid blow is a globe [sic] of synthetic materials. The fastest vaccine was mumps [sic] in the 1960s.”

Another user claims being a 30-year career Army veteran and a 53-year-old retired husband, father and grandfather. The Twitter account was created in December 2016 after Donald Trump won the presidency.

The user then went on to spend the next four years regularly posting strong opinions on American politics, including declaring that “Biden is a longtime racial bigot, serial plagiarist, and buffoonish liar.”

Coincidentally, the account hasn’t posted a tweet since the fall of 2020, around the same time former President Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

Besides the contents of an account, another easy way to tell if a profile is fake is to look at the photo the user has posted on the profile. Typically, bots focus on how quickly they can spread misinformation and spend very little effort on account branding. This means that if you look closely, you will notice flaws in the shaping of the profile.

Most of the time, the profile picture on a bot account will look very generic. Some bots even streamline the process of finding the perfect photo to use by using photos of people who don’t really exist. These photos are entirely generated by artificial intelligence.

AI generated faces
Easily accessible websites like “That Person Doesn’t Exist” provide bots with the resources to create a fake profile in seconds. The faces generated on the site are generated using artificial intelligence and will produce unique results with each click of the “Refresh” button. evan santiago This person does not exist

If you look closely at these photos, you will see flaws in the background. Indeed, the AI ​​used to generate the photos only knows how to generate a face, not a background.

Ignore or unfollow repeat offenders

The most effective way to minimize the appearance of fake news on your feed is to remove people who share it too often. Because unfollowing or unfollowing someone may seem too harsh for some users, subtly muting people who constantly share fake news will keep their content off your feed without notifying them of the change.

Of course, the option of a civil discussion regarding their sharing of misinformation might be worth exploring. It is likely that they are completely unaware that they are participating in a misinformation campaign.

Evan Santiago is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer and writes for the publication’s Service Journalism Desk. He is originally from New York and is currently based in Queen City where he works to help local readers with the challenges that come with everyday life in the modern world.

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