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To understand and study the complexity of the information ecosystem, we need a common language. The current reliance on simplistic terms such as 'fake news' hides important distinctions and denigrates journalism. It also focuses too much on 'true' versus 'fake', whereas information disorder comes in many shades of 'misleading.'
Misinformation: Unintentional mistakes such as inaccurate captions, dates, statistics, or translations or when satire is taken seriously.
Disinformation: Fabricated or deliberately manipulated content. Intentionally created conspiracy theories or rumors.
Malinformation: Deliberate publication of private information for personal or corporate rather than public interest, such as revenge porn. Deliberate change of context, date, or time of genuine content.
Conspiracy theories attempt to explain events as the secretive plots of powerful people. While conspiracy theories are not typically supported by evidence, this doesn’t stop them from blossoming. Conspiracy theories damage society in a number of ways. To help minimise these harmful effects, The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, explains why conspiracy theories are so popular, how to identify the traits of conspiratorial thinking, and what are effective response strategies.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since news became a concept 500 years ago with the invention of print—a lot longer, in fact, than verified, “objective” news, which emerged in force a little more than a century ago. From the start, fake news has tended to be sensationalist and extreme, designed to inflame passions and prejudices. And it has often provoked violence.
Mike Caulfield has worked with students and faculty to identify the core skills and habits that students and citizens are missing that leave them vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation on the web. He has organized them into a model called SIFT:
Investigate the source
Find better coverage
Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context
He calls these “moves” and ties each one to a couple simple skills you can usually execute in 30 seconds or less. For more information on how to SIFT, see the links at the bottom of this box.