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How to Spot Fake News: A Disinformation Check List

How to Spot Fake News: A Disinformation Check List

Vaccination is a good defense against COVID. Inoculation works similarly and builds your resistance against being infected by disinformation.

Rand Waltzman is an expert at analyzing disinformation and how it's used to manipulate people. This StoryMap summaries his recent report from #disinformation and explains 18 common tactics along with recent examples.

"Understand and recognize cognitive attacks and attempts to manipulate you. The success of such attacks heavily depends on you NOT understanding and recognizing them."

Manipulation tricks

Guard against manipulation by disinformation with this checklist.

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Disinformation tactic checklist

  • Attack scientists. Emphasize flaws in scientific studies such as sample size.
  • Promote your own 'would-be' experts. They don't even have to be experts on the topic.
  • Misrepresent data. Cherry-pick data to deceive and dilute the work of scientists.
  • Bury bad news. Deny it any public exposure. Catch and Kill the story.
  • Push alternate facts. Create your own truth and spread it to misinform and distract people from the facts.

  • Host conferences. Organize your own conferences with hand picked speakers to push your stories.
  • Hide your intent. Don't reveal your agenda or who's funding your disinformation campaign.
  • Use harsh language. Use buzzwords to differentiate between "strong" and "poor" science.
  • Shift the blame. Blame alternative causes for bad things. Deny any responsibility.
  • Claim you are being censored. Demand equal air time to spread your alternate facts.

  • Define how to measure outcomes. Create your own guidelines for the right way to measure results while undermining scientific principles.
  • Exploit people's lack of science knowledge. Use conspiracy theories to confuse people.
  • Pretend you're defending the truth. Claim that everyone else is lying.
  • Obscure your involvement. Use attorney-client privilege to hide your role in events.

  • Weaponize media outlets. Use media outlets that support you to spread your story.
  • Claim equivalency. Appeal to journalistic balance. Invoke the fairness doctrine.
  • Take advantage of your opponent's lack of money and influence. Silence individuals by outspending them. Use Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to gag them.
  • Make bad things your cause seem normal. Reduce the importance of bad things happening. Make them seem inevitable.

Build your resistance

Building public resilience against misinformation. Developing solutions to misinformation is more important than ever in this post-truth era where science and facts are under constant assault. A key solution to making the public more resilient against fake news is inoculation – avoid being misled by learning the techniques of denial. The Cranky Uncle game uses cartoons and critical thinking to fight misinformation. The game was developed by Monash University scientist John Cook, in collaboration with creative agency Autonomy. The game is now available for free on iPhoneAndroid, and as a browser game.

TakeAway: Build your resistance against being manipulated by disinformation by understanding the tricks used against you.


Credit: Video adapted from Anti-Drug Public Service Announcement (PSA) with Rachel Leigh Cook using the free iMovie app.

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.