Preventing the Spread of Misinformation & Disinformation

Those who create misinformation deliberately try to manipulate legitimate journalists into covering false or misleading content, knowing that a poorly worded headline or debunk can give a rumor or hoax much needed oxygen. Journalists should avoid spreading misinformation by repeating a false claim, reposting a manipulated photo, or restating an inaccurate quote etc. State what is true and accurate before correcting false information. While correcting false information be sure you are not amplifying content that has not been seen or shared by a significant number of people. Correct false information when the misinformation reaches a critical mass and appears to be spreading.   

First Draft defines it with three terms:

  • Disinformation:  Intentionally creating something that is false and sharing it. It sometimes originates from a true photo or quote, and then is put in a false context.
  • Misinformation: An unintentional mistake. Sharing something that you didn’t know was wrong. 
  • Malinformation: Real, factual information or pictures shared intending to hurt someone. 
Investigate the Source

Any material or information sent to a news organization must be investigated to determine legitimacy. Before using any material such as video, audio, or photos – newsrooms must verify the source, date, and ownership of the content. Journalists should make every effort to contact those identified in any video, photos or quotes for confirmation of truth and context. Original sources should be directly contacted to verify how the material was obtained, seeking further proof of the claims. If graphics are displayed within any curated material, the facts presented in those graphics must be investigated to determine accuracy. Sourcing of the graphics must also be presented.

Examine the Material

News organizations should be suspicious and cautious about the authenticity of video, check available metadata of material and review footage thoroughly to identify signs of unnatural movements (fuzziness around the mouth, unnatural lighting and skin tone differences are signs of a manipulated video). Steps such as reverse image searches should be taken to confirm the authenticity of photos and video not taken by your own newsroom. News organizations should implement a process of review for all material involving more than one journalist.

Training and Use of Tools to Spot Fake Material

News organizations should implement ongoing awareness and training for journalists on how misinformation is created and disseminated. Free training is available from organizations such as First Draft News.

Reporting on the Spread of Misinformation

A key responsibility of journalists is to inform the public about these techniques and how to spot misleading or false information. Journalists should report on these issues to raise awareness as well as share their own methods and policies around the process of review and verification. While working to stop the spread of disinformation, a journalist should clearly identify the sources used to confirm the accurate information to build trust with the reader or viewer or listener.

A Second Set of Eyes

All news content, on all platforms should be proofed by a second set of eyes.