The ability to identify misinformation and propaganda on the internet can save you from unnecessary stress and anxiety. Misinformation and propaganda are powerful tools people with little or no integrity use to polarize public opinion and promote violence, extremism, and hate speech.
The internet is filled with all kinds of people. Some with good intent and others with malicious and manipulative motives.
What is Propaganda and Misinformation?
Propaganda is the systematic distribution of information or ideas by an interested party, specifically in a biased (expressing or intending to promote a particular cause or point of view, especially a controversial one) manner, to encourage or instill a certain attitude or response.
The most difficult information to examine and diagnose is misinformation. It's defined as misleading or incorrect information presented as fact. It’s used to intentionally spread unproven or inaccurate information.
In summary, both propaganda and misinformation involve spreading falsified or only partially truthful information that is spread with the intention of inciting reactions from readers.
Tips for Spotting Propaganda and Misinformation
Most people often ask, “How do I spot misinformation and propaganda?” Propaganda and misinformation can be displayed in articles, blogs, posters, social media, newspapers, on TV, pretty much everywhere these days.
Here are some reliable tips to help you spot them in person and on the internet.
~Is the Source Legit?
~When you see a piece of information that seems misleading or questionable, try to investigate the source for credibility. Almost anyone can post anything on the internet these days, but if they are a trusted source then they would have a positive reputation of offering verifiable and accurate information.
~Read Between the Lines
~Headlines are often purposefully misleading. Most papers, magazines, and sites put up outrageous headlines to get clicks and viewers' attention. After clicking on such sites, you may notice that the content has no connection to the headline or is just a bunch of forceful ideations on the persons own opinions and theories. You can also pay attention to the choice of words the writer chose to use to understand the real intention and meaning of the writing.
~Check the Author
~You can look up the author to know if they are a “real” person and how credible they are. Is the author the kind of character with a track record of writing unproven facts? If yes, then maybe you should try to confirm the information with another source. If they have a healthy track record of stating the truth in an unbiased way, then they are probably qualified authors.
~Check for Supporting Sources
~Most fact-based writing will provide credible sources within or at the end of the writing. If a piece of factual writing isn’t either written in first-person or with credible supported sources, then it is likely not a qualified piece of truthful content. If you want to fact check on top of source checking, there are applications you can use like Snopes.com.
~Look for the Published Date
~For most puff pieces or informational blogs, the date doesn’t much matter in determining its accuracy. However, propaganda and misinformation are often current or timely. For these cases, the publishing date will help you know the topic's relevance to the current events. Additionally, a reposted story may not have the same relevance as it did when it was first published. It could also get reposted just to stir the pot and kick up dust, another tactic often used by faulty sources.
~Is it a Joke?
~In the modern age, jokes can be overly cruel, some may say, even harmful. If a post looks too cynical or too funny to be accurate, you can further research the site and author to verify its authenticity. Remember, it’s the internet and sarcasm is often lost in translation or misunderstood when shared online.
9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Sharing Possible Propaganda
The popularity of propaganda is often directly linked to how many people share it. Sharing potential propaganda not only puts your social integrity on the line but once proven incorrect can cause people to not believe you when something legitimate is shared. Before you share possible propaganda or misinformation, there are some questions you can ask yourself.
~1. Did the Post/Article Immediately Spark Fear, Make You Angry or Disgusted?
~When scrolling through the internet, if you come across a post or an article that quickly infuriates you or incites fear, that should be a red flag for you not to share it. If you wish to share it, you should only share such a post after an adequate investigation of its authenticity has been conducted.
~Most often than not, such posts are designed to toy with your emotions. Do not fall victim to their trap. If after proper investigation the information is found to be void of propaganda, and you are interested in sharing the posters views, then sharing is at your own discretion.
~2. Did it Make You Feel Good? Too Good?
~The feel-good approach is a new tactic most of these misinformation originators employ to gain credibility. The operational style here is to post touchy content and stories that seem to be true. People will, in turn, share these posts and these accounts use it as an avenue to build an audience for themselves.
~Sharing these feel-good posts gives credibility to these malicious accounts and validates them as a good source of reliable information. All these accounts need to do is keep feeding the public with such posts and grow over time. After achieving a certain level of credibility, they launch their propaganda and misinformation campaigns in between more “feel-good” posts.
~Examples of feel-good posts are littered all over the internet. They inflate the egos and virtue signaling nature of people and thrive on their vanity. For example, posts like “only brave men can share this post with ten friends” or “only geniuses can pass this test.” Posts like these are simply baits to draw the vanity conscious, and likely the easily manipulated crowd, in till it is time to launch their propaganda plan. These accounts play the long game.
~3. Is it too extraordinary or hard to believe?
~If a post has an extraordinary claim or a hard-to-believe story, reviewing the credibility is recommended. So, before you share that outrageous or unbelievable post, the information should be backed by evidence and originality.
~4. Did it Confirm Your Suspicions?
~Posts that concur with ones thought patterns and premeditated ideas will tickle one's interest, and most people these days will eagerly validate them without much thought. Meanwhile, the story might be largely falsified and only written to spread propaganda to the interested parties that will so eagerly want it to be true.
~Every individual should accept and recognize his/her biases, knowing that if such matters arise, our judgment will often tilt to our prejudice. Therefore, consulting other perspectives on a post and apply critical thinking to know what is true and what is misinformation is imperative.
~Remembering that the updates and posts we see online are designed by an algorithm to consistently show us our interests, mistaking these interests and single stories as fact could eventually lead to you helping in with the spread misinformation and propaganda.
~5. Is it Hard to Read/Comprehend?
~A post with numerous grammatical and spelling errors or too much fancy/political jargon is most likely weak propaganda, and the information should be regarded as such.
~If a writer does not do their due diligence to spell-check their work and look out for grammatical flaws, what makes you think they will verify their facts?
~Furthermore, the use of hard-to-understand terms, it indicates poorly researched work and plagiarism due to copy and paste from likely biased sources.
~6. Was it a Meme or Other Funny Image?
~Memes are one of the most effective tools, in recent times, to pass short, powerful, and thought-provoking messages using pictures and short videos.
~Most memes are typically funny and served with a primary intent to cause relief. However, the comic tool has also been used as a political tool to pass notions, propaganda, and divide the general public.
~7. What is the Source, and is it Legit?
~No source is above scrutiny when it comes to the legitimacy of its content. An ideal approach when you see a post is to verify how reliable that media outlet is and research the media outlet to know its partisan bias, if any.
~Some outlets might publish a post with evidence to back the facts shared, but you have to verify these facts and search for areas where they slanted the facts to favor the posts’ notion or trend.
~Sharing unverified facts online goes down as a vote to endorse the site's credibility, thereby helping the misinformation site thrive and reach more people. Being careful to vet the information you see before sharing can help lessen this epidemic.
~8. Who Said it and are They Trustworthy?
~The person's integrity who makes a statement or post goes a long way to tell us how accurate or untrue a post may be. Even though the person might be famous; be them a celebrity, a politician, or an influencer, if their integrity is tainted or if they are known to be a bearer of false news, their words should be taken lightly or even disregarded completely.
~9. Have you Checked the Facts?
~Facts don’t lie. You can verify most facts using sites like FactCheck. Using these reputable sites is easy and takes only moments. Just a few clicks, and you have the verification necessary.