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Online news, social media and digital platforms have given us easy access to information and instant connection to the world. However, it has also provided an unregulated space where false or misleading information can spread quickly and cause great harm. This is called Misinformation.
What you need to know
With nearly half of people in Wales now relying on social media for their news, it is important to be aware that there is a lot of inaccurate information online posing as the truth.
So the next time you see a news story, image or meme online remember to stop, think and check.
Types of misinformation
Misinformation is designed to be believed and it’s not always easy to distinguish. There are a number of terms used to describe false or misleading information. The differences can be subtle but it’s important to know and understand the purpose and intent behind the information you see online.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information and can take the form of a social media post, a real or edited picture, a video clip, a meme or news story. Misinformation can be shared inadvertently without realising that the information is false or inaccurate.
Disinformation takes the same form as misinformation but it is deliberately created to deceive, mislead and influence. This could be for personal, political or economic purposes. Disinformation can threaten our values and principles undermining our safety, security, communities and trust.
'Fake news' is used to describe inaccurate or misleading content that is often sensational or emotive. It may include misinformation, disinformation or both. 'Fake news' has steadily increased and the Ofcom News consumption report 2020 states that 'The vast majority of 12-15 year olds have heard of ‘fake news’ and of these, about half say they have seen a news story online or on social media that they thought was ‘fake news’.
Clickbait is content such as a headline designed to attract your attention and encourage you to click on a link taking you to other online content, for example, an article, image or video. Instead of presenting objective facts, clickbait appeals to your emotions and curiosity.
A ‘deepfake’ refers to a photo or video where the faces have been swapped or digitally altered using artificial intelligence (AI). Creating fake images in this way can produce very genuine-looking results that appear to show someone saying something or doing something they never really said or did.
Malinformation is the deliberate publication of private information for personal or private interest, as well as the deliberate manipulation of genuine content. While this information may not be false in nature, it covers information that is disseminated to cause harm.
Top tips to spot misinformation
Misinformation can take many forms and it is important not to believe everything you see, hear or read online at face value. It’s not just news articles where misinformation exists, it’s often found in the form of a meme or an edited picture, an image of out context or a simple social media post. The key challenge in stopping the spread of misinformation is being able to identify and spot it.
Here is a simple checklist to help you spot misinformation.
Misinformation and its spread has the potential to cause online and offline harm. It is particularly concerning when people base their decisions on what can be false or misleading information, for example, health choices. In a recent Ofcom discussion paper ‘Understanding online false information in the UK’ examples of harm include:
- encouraging people to make decisions that could damage their health or that of others
- prompting people to make damaging economic or financial decisions
- undermining respect and tolerance towards other people or even driving discrimination or hate
- harming people’s mental state or health (for example by causing anxiety or stress)
- damaging trust or undermining participation in social or democratic institutions and processes (such as elections)
- undermining public confidence and trust in news and information sources
- otherwise generating confusion, uncertainty or doubt about historical, current or future events or trends, leading to damaging decisions or actions
Views from the experts
Learning and teaching resources
- World Health Organisation (WHO): How to report misinformation online
- Meic Cymru: How to figure out if something is fake on the internet
- Meic Cymru: What is misinformation (fake news)?
- WISE KIDS: True or false? Coronavirus fact check quiz
- WISE KIDS: Opinion or fact? Coronavirus quiz
- NSPCC: How can we teach kids to spot fake news online
- Internetmatters.org: 'fake news' and misinformation advice hub
- BBC Bitesize: Fact or fake?