Understanding the Types of Misinformation and Disinformation

What do we mean when we talk about "fake news?"

FAKE NEWS: This term has become a politically charged term without clear definition. It is best to avoid using it, instead choosing a more definitive and recognized term from the list below.


  • DISINFORMATION: content that is intentionally false and designed to cause harm. It is motivated by three factors: to make money; to have political influence; or to cause trouble.

  • MISINFORMATION: false content being shared by someone who doesn’t realize that it is false or misleading. Often a piece of disinformation is picked up by someone who doesn’t realize it’s false, and shares it with their networks, believing that they are helping.

  • MALINFORMATION: genuine information that is shared with an intent to cause harm. An example of this is when Russian agents hacked into emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign and leaked certain details to the public to damage reputations.

  • MISLEADING CONTENT: Reframing stories in headlines, using fragments of quotes to support a wider point, citing statistics in a way that aligns with a position or deciding not to cover something because it undermines an argument are all recognized techniques. It's hard to define exactly because it’s about context and nuance. How much of a quote is omitted? To what extent have statistics been massaged? Has the way a photo was cropped significantly changed the meaning of the image?


To Avoid Using or Sharing Disinformation

Ask three simple questions...

  • Who's behind the information?

  • What's the evidence?

  • What do other sources say?

And use two simple skills...

  • Click restrain.

  • Lateral reading.

Learning the skill of CLICK RESTRAINT will help you to sort through information quickly and minimize the chance you'll waste time on a misleading site.

Professional fact-checkers open other tabs and check their sources. It's called LATERAL READING, and it's a skill we all need to develop. Check out the video below to learn more.

Professional Fact-Checkers (YOU!), open a tab and search for answers

Who's behind the information?

  • Is the source named?

  • Is it an individual or an organization?

  • Are they qualified to speak on the topic?

What's the evidence?

  • Are facts included to support claimed?

  • Are evidence sources linked so you can read them yourself?

What do other sources say?

  • Are other people or organizations saying similar things?

  • Are those sources reliable?

Also, ask yourself:

  • How does this make me feel?

  • How does this information make me feel about other people?

  • How do these feeling affect my urge to trust or share this content?

  • Who benefits if I feel this way?

  • Should I engage (like, share, comment, etc.) with this, should I investigate further before I engage, or should I not engage at all?

  • What are the creators of this content hoping I will do?

  • What is the healthiest, most producing choice I can make regarding this content?

Don't talk to strangers! Develop a trusted list of news sources & fact checking sites!

There is no one source that is always 100% right! As humans, we make mistakes.

However, these well known fact-checking sites are widely recognized for their accuracy and fairness.

Familiarize yourself with two or three and use them whenever you come across a questionable post.


FactCheck.org is one of the most frequently used and well-respected fact-checking sites.

Snopes began by debunking or confirming email hoaxes in the early days of the internet and has grown into one of the most popular fact-checking sites today.

PolitFact focuses solely on political news and uses the "truth-o-meter" to rate the accuracy of news stories and political claims.

AP News Fact Check Hub This site publishes a weekly, "Not Real News: A Look at What Didn't Happen This Week," which debunks falsehoods from the past week's news events

Lead Stories fact checks viral social media posts and organized them into a "Blue Feed" and "Red Feed," making it easier to find examples on both sides.

Looking for more sources? The International Fact-Checking Network certifies fact-checking websites from around the globe using a stringent set of standards and professional journalists. See the list and the evaluations of each site.

Humans are biased. Responsible journalism shouldn't be.

It's important to take these steps to make sure you are getting a balanced diet of news:

  1. Recognize your own bias: What is your worldview? Which direction do you lean on the political spectrum? Where are your blind spots?

  2. Identify the bias in the media you consume: Use one of the tools below to help evaluate news sources.

  3. Balance your bias diet: If your favorite new source is biased, find another that is equally biased in the opposite direction and read both.

  4. Seek out fact-based, opinion-free new sources: Make fact-based sources your first stop for news. Then you can form your own opinions before hearing the opinions of pundits and others.


AllSides presents articles grouped by political leaning, usually with a left, right, and center article for each topic. They make it easy to balance your news diet! The site includes media bias ratings and a rate your bias tool.

Ad Fontes Media is the home of the Interactive Media Bias Chart, which regularly updates its ratings based on analysis of individual articles reviewed by readers from the right, left, and center. Ratings address not only political bias but also source reliability.


Learn how to be responsible for your digital life, and mindful of your digital identity.