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Fake News & Digital Media Literacy: Understanding the Problem

Understanding Fake News and the Importance of Digital Media Literacy

Understanding the Problem with Fake News and Information Disorder

Fake news is a term that we are all aware of in today’s information environment. The term itself emerged as part of the public consciousness during the 2016 elections, but the issue of false and misleading information has existed for centuries. Although fake news is the term that is most commonly used as part of today’s popular culture, this designation can gloss over the complexities surrounding this important and increasingly relevant problem.

Researchers studying the spread of false and misleading content often refer to the problem as information disorder. Information disorder appears in three primary formats — misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation — each of which varies in its truthfulness and intent (See Types of Information Disorder and Digital Media Literacy: A Glossary of Terms for more information).

Combating Misinformation with Digital Media Literacy

Information disorder is a serious public health issue with economic, social, and political impacts. In an age of social media, where misleading information can be posted and shared in a matter of seconds, it is more important than ever to be able to recognize misinformation and other forms of manipulative or misleading content.

Digital media literacy broadly refers to the skills and strategies needed to create, evaluate, and engage with digital media sources of all forms. This guide is designed to introduce digital media literacy skills and discuss the different forms of false or misleading content and information practices.

Vin Diagram explaining the different types of information disorder. See Text Description tab.

Image Source: "Information Disorder, Part 3: Useful Graphics" | Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017 | Available under a Creative Commons License

Types of Information Disorder

Misinformation: Unintentional mistakes such as inaccurate photo captions, dates, statistics, translations, or when satire is taken seriously. Characterized by a high level of falseness with a low intent to harm.

Disinformation: Fabricated or deliberately manipulated audio/visual content. Intentionally created conspiracy theories or rumors. Characterized by a high level of falseness with an intent to harm.

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. Characterized by elements of truth portrayed in a way intended to cause harm.

Source: "Information Disorder, Part 3: Useful Graphics" | Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017 | Available under a Creative Commons License

News Spotlight

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OpenAI Unveils A.I. Technology That Recreates Human Voices

Cade Metz | March 29, 2024 | The New York Times

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Health Misinformation is Evolving. Here's How to Spot It.

Dani Blum | March 16, 2024 | The New York Times

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What ‘KateGate’ Says About Royalty, Celebrity and Internet Culture

Elizabeth Paton | March 25, 2024 | The New York Times

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Tiffany Hsu and

Guide Navigation

Navigating this Guide

This guide consists of several pages, each of which is focused on a specific aspect of information disorder or digital media literacy.

Digital Media Literacy: A Glossary of Terms

Cheapfake: False or misleading audio-visual content which is altered or otherwise manipulated using readily accessible editing technology and human effort

Clickbait: "Internet content whose main purpose is to encourage users to follow a link to a web page, esp. where that web page is considered to be of low quality or value"  (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

Confirmation Bias: "The tendency to seek or favour new information which supports one’s existing theories or beliefs, while avoiding or rejecting that which disrupts them" (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)


Deepfake: "Any of various media, esp. a video, that has been digitally manipulated to replace one person's likeness convincingly with that of another, often used maliciously to show someone doing something that he or she did not do" (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

Digital Citizenship: "...the ability to navigate our digital environments in a way that's safe and responsible and to actively and respectfully engage in these spaces" (Source: Media Smarts)

Digital Media Literacy: "...the ability to critically, effectively and responsibly access, use, understand and engage with media of all kinds" (Source: Media Smarts)

Disinformation: Information that is "deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country" (Source: Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency)

Information Disorder: The collective name for the issues of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation

Filter BubbleAn issue that arises when algorithms on social media and other online sites present users with only the ideas or information that conforms to their existing opinions and belief

Malinformation: Information that "is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.  An example of malinformation is editing a video to remove important context to harm or mislead" (Source: Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Organization)

Misinformation: Information that is "false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm" (Source: Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency)

Propaganda: "The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a particular cause or point of view, often a political agenda" (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

Satire: "... a novel, film, or other work of art which uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary" (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

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