How To Spot Disinformation On Social Media

Published on August 28, 2019

Have you ever seen a politically charged social media post and wondered where it came from? Who the person behind the account is? Not many people do. Disinformation—a categorization of misinformation that is characterized by the deliberate intention to deceive or persuade, is increasingly common in an age where social media is weaponized as a political tool. Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they had each identified and shut down accounts that belonged to government officials in China. The accounts, which posed as American citizens or citizens of Hong Kong, took social media by storm to assert political propaganda that aimed to deceive social media users and dissuade them from sympathizing with protestors.

Though  Twitter has a policy on platform manipulation included in its terms of use, that doesn’t stop organizations, companies, and content firms from implementing disinformation campaigns—especially heading into the 2020 election season. The only real way to combat disinformation is to educate social media users on how to recognize it and question the opinions and facts they see on social media. While fake news is increasingly covered in mainstream media, disinformation and platform manipulation is still able to slip through the cracks, posing as an equal threat to the spread of fake or biased news. Here are a few ways to recognize and identify disinformation around social media.

Consider The Source

If you’ve ever noticed a viral tweet—one that often shares a political opinion or states a fact—comes from an account with little interactions or followers is going around, consider whether or not the account is representing a real person or opinion. Often, disinformation aims to disguise itself as a certain demographic to try and infiltrate. Disinformation spreads in the same way that clever marketing campaigns that were calculated to go viral are able to do so in a matter of hours.

In the case of the disinformation accounts that aimed to re-frame the political narrative about Hong Kong, accounts posing as right-wing Americans took Twitter by storm to attempt to create a false opinion on the protests. Accounts that seemingly came from middle-American conservatives spread narratives and opinions about the protestors to make them seem violent and anti-democratic. When others within that demographic saw the tweet, they were more likely to interact with it positively after seeing that the information was coming from someone that seemingly shared their political interests.

Don’t Trust Information Even If You Agree With It

It’s easy to assume that information you see on social media that you agree with could not possibly be incorrect. Disinformation cannot thrive if it isn’t targeted to a specific audience. In the same way that political candidates are often accused of pandering to their audiences, disinformation aims to do the same—the only difference is that, under the clever veil of social media, the pandering can seemingly come from someone you have a lot in common with. Millennials love to interact and follow their peers (I mean, we invented influencer marketing and generally don’t trust massive ad campaigns), so companies and organizations are increasingly finding that they can manipulate large audiences by simply posing as someone that millennials want to interact with online.

Read The Full Story – From Multiple Sources

Big stories that often go viral do so because of their headlines. In an age where most people don’t pay attention to something online beyond reading the first couple of sentences, a lot of information gets skewed and manipulated in the process. While fake news may be a big issue, click bait and disinformation is often spread even more frequently than fake news simply because someone shares an article based on the headline without reading the content. Take time to read stories in full before you share them, and fact check anything that seems outlandish or exaggerated. For example, one article may talk about how Caitlyn Jenner killed someone, while another may talk of a tragic car accident that Caitlyn Jenner was involved in. The reality? Probably somewhere in the middle.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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