Spotting the fake: misinformation and disinformation

After attending an intensive workshop on checking and verifying facts in news last week organised by Google Bengaluru, I realised how rampant fake news issue is and how serious it can be. I would like to share informative write ups on the issue and related matters. Feel free to comment, ask questions, do your own research, bust fake news on your own etc.

Let me start with two menaces prevalent that are affecting all of us in many ways, and have discredited the credibility of reasonably good mainstream media outlets as well. They are, misinformation and disinformation.

MISINFORMATION: When someone unwittingly shares something, thinking that something is true and will help the person, it is misinformation. Lack of information on the authenticity is the reason for sharing here. The urge to help others, or one’s own agreement with the arguments made in the information, hence not checking the facts, is the motive.

Motive for misinformation need not be negative always. Sometimes it is satires shared by someone might be misunderstood to be true and get circulated as well.

A huge amount of what we see is misinformation, but it gets converted to disinformation when ideological or confirmation bias or other kinds of factors (money, for example!) are involved.

DISINFORMATION: When someone shares something knowing that it is not true, it is called disinformation – it is false information spread deliberately to deceive someone or a mass. This is the cause of misinformation and also leads to more dis-informers. Most of the political misinformation shared on social media is disinformation, but gets converted into misinformation and leads to more disinformation too.

When misinformation and disinformation originate from a person of position in society or the government or public life, it kind of validates spreading of misinformation and disinformation. This is what we call Fake News, and people need to know the difference between fake and real.

How does it matter to you?

Think of those forwards demanding blood, for example! Most of the times people forward it thinking it will help someone, but most of the times it is not relevant anymore.It just wastes the physical and mental space of the person who you share it with if the person takes it seriously. Once it is found untrue, it affects YOUR credibility with that person.

What can you do when you come across a fake information on social media or messengers? Let’s take the the specific case of blood donation requests again.

Before forwarding a blood donation request, you can call the numbers given. If there is no number to call, then it is definitely unhelpful and need not be shared at all. When you need blood, it is best to approach the verified blood donation networks that are really helpful, and give the date by which it is needed, and the date on which the message originated. This is better than spreading it randomly on WhatsApp – it might get forwarded to 100 others but you may never get the blood you need.

Have you ever shared fake news? Have you gone and corrected yourself when you came to know the fact? Have you been a part of a disinformation network? You don’t have to answer anyone – just think about it. And think whether you could have dealt with the situations differently.