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Fake News and Disinformation: home


Disinformation - Emotions trump thinking

“We tend to think that we have rational relationships to information, but we don’t. We have emotional relationships to information, which is why the most effective disinformation draws on our underlying fears and worldviews….We’re less likely to be critical of information that reinforces our worldview or taps into our deep-seated emotional responses” (Wardle).


In an information environment shaped by pervasive algorithms, the attention economy, engagement, and polarization, how do we determine truth? How do we know which sources of information to trust? These questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer, and even more so as “disinformation that is designed to provoke an emotional reaction can flourish in these spaces” (Wardle).


A 2020 study from Project Information Literacy confirms that the way information is delivered today—with opinion and propaganda mingled with traditional news sources, and with algorithms highlighting sources based on engagement rather than quality—has left many college students concerned about the trustworthiness of online content. Students reported that it was difficult to know where to place their trust when credible sources are buried by a deluge of poorer-quality content and misinformation. One student noted that “it’s not that we’re lacking credible information. It’s that we’re drowning in like a sea of all these different points out there” (Head et al. 20).

“This is happening at a time when falsehoods proliferate and trust in truth-seeking institutions is being undermined. Even the very existence of truth itself has come into question….People no longer know what to believe or on what grounds we can determine what is true” (Head et al. 11, 36).


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Adapted from Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Information Disorder

Information Disorder

In her book, First Draft’s Essential Guide to Understanding Information Disorder, Claire Wardle offers a nuanced approach to describing and defining the various types of false, misleading, manipulated, or deceptive information. She places them all under the broad category “information disorder” and ranks them by ability to harm. See her book for details on the different types of false information. Here is her scale:

High Harm  Fabricated Content: New content that is 100% false; designed to deceive and do harm.

Manipulated Content: When genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive.

Imposter Content: When genuine content is shared with false contextual information.
  Misleading Content: Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual.
False Connection: When headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content.
Low Harm Satire or Parody: No intention to cause harm but has potential to fool.

Fake News is MANY things

Types of Fake News

Melissa Zimdars, Merrimack College, organizes fake news into four categories:

  • CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
  • CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information
  • CATEGORY 3: Websites that sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions
  • CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

Be Wary of Ads Disguised as Stories

The internet is a revenue-generating giant for advertisers, and some companies have found success in disguising their ads as news stories in website sidebars, feeds and at the footer of credible stories. You’ve surely seen the ads for “This one weird trick will help you lose weight.”



“First Draft’s Essential Guide to Understanding Information Disorder” by Claire Wardle is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Head, Alison J., Barbara Fister, and Margy MacMillan. “Information Literacy in the Age of Algorithms.” Project Information Literacy, 15 Jan. 2020. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Image: “3 Types of Information Disorder” graphic by Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Image: “Cognition and Emotion” by ElisaRiva on Pixabay

Vongkiatkajorn, Kanyakrit. “Here’s How You Can Fight Back Against Disinformation.” Mother Jones, 9. Aug. 2018.