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Misinformation and Disinformation

Term Definition Example
Misinformation When false information is shared, but no harm is meant During the 2016 US presidential elections, a tweet about a 'rigged' voting machine in Philadelphia was shared more than 11,000 times. It was later established that the original tweet was a mistake made by a voter who had failed to follow the Instructions exhibited on the voting machine."
Disinformation When false information is knowingly shared to
cause harm
During the 2017 French presidential elections, a duplicate version of the Belgian newspaper Le Soir was created, with a false article claiming that Emmanuel Macron was being funded by Saudi Arabia.
Mal-information When genuine information is shared to cause harm Examples include intentional leakage of a politician's private emails, as happened during the presidential elections in France.

Source: Wardle, C. and Derakshan, H. in Information disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making (2017).

Misinformation, Disinformation and Fake News Defined

  • Misinformation
    Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is mistakenly or inadvertently created or spread; the intent is not to deceive. Shared on the University of Michigan Library Fake News resource guide.
  • Disinformation

    Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created and spread "in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth" according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Shared on the University of Michigan Library Fake News resource guide.

    Disinformation is a broader term that encompasses all examples of deliberately false or misleading information. It differs from misinformation, which refers to information that is inaccurate but not necessarily maliciously so. Shared by the Central Washington University Library.

  • Fake News

    “Fake news” is a term that has come to mean different things to different people. At its core, we are defining “fake news” as those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes. Sometimes these stories may be propaganda that is intentionally designed to mislead the reader, or may be designed as “clickbait” written for economic incentives (the writer profits on the number of people who click on the story). In recent years, fake news stories have proliferated via social media, in part because they are so easily and quickly shared online. 

    Shared on the University of Michigan Library Fake News resource guide.

  • Confirmation Bias

    Confirmation bias is the idea that we tend to accept information unquestionably when it reinforces some predisposition we have or some existing belief or attitude. In this video, reporters and media professionals define the term "confirmation bias," and discuss its effect on how people approach and evaluate news and other information.

    Video provided by Facing History's Resource Library.

Resources for Spotting Fake News

    • Nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. applies the best practices of both journalism and scholarship to increase public knowledge and understanding.
  • Fake News: It's Complicated
    • Resources compiled by Claire Wardle. The site Includes helpful infographic that helps to explain problematic content in the information ecosystem.
  • False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical "News" Sources
    • Resource created by Dr. Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication & media at Merrimack College, as a tool to teach her students about journalism/social media/media literacy.
    • A fact-checking website produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This website serves as a resource for verifying the increasing volume of disinformation and misinformation being distributed and shared globally.
  • WashingtonPost Fact Checker
    • Rates truthfulness of news stories.

How to Spot Fake News


Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.


Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?


Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.


Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.


Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?


Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story .


If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.


Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.

Review the infographic created by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions on How to Spot Fake News.