Updated: July 21, 2022
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You will learn

False or misleading posts carry some obvious signs. Here, you will learn how to spot misinformation red flags and how to evaluate primary and secondary sources.

A functioning democracy is built on a foundation of facts. The Jan. 6 insurrection was driven by misinformation, and false or misleading COVID-19 videos threatened public health systems. Here, we’ll walk you through some of the ways false content is presented online. Keep in mind that the list is not exclusive.

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What are some of the signs of suspicious content online?

Watch what MediaWise Campus Correspondent Maddie Herron has to say about misinformation red flags:

Read the video transcript (PDF)

Common misinformation red flags

Misinformation comes in many forms but here are some of the most common ways you’ll see it appear online:

  • Lack of sources — Posts that make strong claims but don’t attribute information to a credible source should raise immediate suspicion.
  • Posts that evoke strong emotions — People are most vulnerable to sharing misinformation when they’re feeling upset or angry. Disinformers understand this, and will often create misleading content that triggers emotions.
  • Cross-posted content — Disinformers often launder false posts by sharing across social platforms. Be on the lookout for tweets shared on Instagram or TikTok videos posted to Facebook.
  • Memes — Memes can be entertaining but they are a common source of misinformation.

When news breaks…

Breaking news can be a time of overwhelming emotions. It’s OK not to post or comment immediately. Before you start sharing online, it’s best to wait for at least three to four credible sources to report the same thing. If you come across breaking news online, try to seek the original source. Look it up using keywords and search operators. Once you start going through the results, consider whether what you see is coming from a primary or a secondary source.

Primary & secondary sources

In journalism, primary sources are any original sources of information, including anyone with direct knowledge of a situation. Examples of primary sources include:

  • firsthand accounts of people
  • original documents, such as letters, records, government documents or data
  • raw material, like photos, audio or video

Secondary sources utilize primary sources to give you an understanding of an event or phenomena, adding a layer of analysis and interpretation. Some examples include:

  • news articles
  • books
  • scholarly articles

Journalists attribute information to their sources and provide links where possible. So even if you come across a news article, you’d know if it’s credible if you can find your way to the original source of information.

It’s your turn!

Whether or not you’re into NFTs, explore the following scenario:

Read the video transcript (PDF)