Skip to main content

The Flow of Misinformation

  • October 6, 2020

Have you ever wondered how fake news stories, scams, and misinformation gets spread so fast on the Internet? In fact, Internet hoaxes spread six times faster than accurate news stories.

According to the Brookings Institution, the flow of misinformation is a combination of human factors and technology factors. On the human side, research shows that we’re more likely to react, share, and comment on content that appeals to our grievances and beliefs in what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” Studies show that social posts that are inflammatory in some way, and that appeal to our grievances or beliefs, are far more likely to generate quick engagement.

Federal Government’s Fight Against Misinformation

During the pandemic we’ve seen many examples of misinformation schemes that have targeted federal employees, our Veterans, and the general public. Frauds about antibody testing, cures, and phony research flooded the internet. The State Department recently supported a study stating that misinformation schemes are significant vulnerabilities to public trust because they spread false narrative, distortions, and falsehoods that “undermine trust in the truth.”

Because some of these schemes are directed at federal employees, our military, and our Veterans, its important that we all understand what we’re looking for, and how we slow down the spread of bad information.

How Schemes Spread

Many of us react to a story or post quickly, with a gut reaction and, without intention, we could be responsible for propagating a misinformation story. That’s when technology takes over.

When you are quick to react and share something inflammatory, that post then gets additional reactions (up to ten times more) and the newsfeed algorithms show it to more and more users, which prompts even more engagement. Then it turns into a social media cycle-confirmation-bias machine that spreads the misinformation far and wide.

What Can You Do?

The Department of Homeland Security recently noted that we need to look at misinformation schemes as “a whole-of-society problem requiring a whole-of-society response.” One of their strategies builds public resistance – that’s you and me – to these schemes.

A place to start is with each of us and bringing self-awareness to our own beliefs and perceptions since, many times, misinformation schemes are tailored toward a specific belief or viewpoint to manipulate it.

Next, you can always validate a post or story by quickly checking a few alternative sources to see if you can confirm the story from multiple viewpoints. If you’re unable to validate the information, there’s a good chance it’s misinformation.

Finally, we have just one small suggestion and that is before you share, THINK:

  • T – is it True
  • H – is it Helpful?
  • I – is it Inspiring?
  • N – is it Necessary?
  • K – is it Kind?

We hope these tips are helpful! Remember, you are one of our CyberHEROs. Help us keep the Internet a good place to be this season. We’re all counting on you!

Page last updated on October 6, 2020