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Misinformation and Fact Checking

Misinformation is false information that is spread by people who mistakenly believe it to be true, while disinformation is false information that is spread with the intent to deceive or mislead others (Encyclopedia Britannica).

You might also hear the term "fake news," which is a type of disinformation created and shared for commercial or political reasons. Often you'll see provocative headlines or titles for the purpose of getting you to click through to advertising. Some politicians or media personalities use the term to describe sources that oppose their views, or to discredit a legitimate source. 

Regardless of intent or motivation, spreading inaccurate information can cause significant harm. We all share the responsibility of stopping its spread by being critical consumers of information and checking our sources before we share something online. The SIFT method provides great strategies for this.

The International Federation of Library Associations created an infographic with additional tips

  • Consider the source: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission, and its contact info.
  • Check the author: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  • Check the date: Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
  • Check your biases: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgment.
  • Read beyond the headline: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
  • Supporting sources? Click on those links. Determine if the information given actually supports the story.
  • Is it a joke? If it’s too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • Ask the experts: Ask a librarian or consult a fact-checking site.

Several think tanks, journalism schools, and news outlets provide fact-checking help. You can check these sites to see if a story or meme is known to be false or misleading. The Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network developed a Code of Principles for fact-checking organizations. Signatories are evaluated annually by independent assessors to ensure that their practices remain in line with the commitments outlined in the code, and you can see the detailed reports online.

Some recommended sites include:

Fake news sites deliberately publish misinformation to generate web traffic. You can avoid these sites altogether. See these lists to check if a site is known to be "fake" or satirical. Keep in mind that websites not on these lists could still be fake.

Spotting bad science information takes additional skills. See this chart for tips.

One common kind of bias in the media is political bias, encountered especially in news sources. There may be a new government policy, which one political party especially likes and another dislikes.  The stories in the news reporting on this new policy might be more positive or more negative, if the news outlet reporting it has a political bias. Below are some resources where you can learn more about the political bias of specific news outlets.

AllSides Media Bias Chart screenshot

Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart screenshot

A deepfake ("deep learning" + "fake") is a highly realistic but AI-generated image, video, or audio of someone doing or saying something they never did or said. Check out this detailed learning module covering what deepfakes are and strategies for recognizing them:

Falsified images, videos, and audio were around long before generative AI tools became popular. Some were made with Photoshop, and some were merely cropped or re-captioned to make them appear to be from a different context. But now there is more concern about harms of deepfakes since generative AI tools make them so easy to create and difficult to recognize.

Here are a few tips for identifying an image that may have been generated with AI:

  • Look for missing or extra fingers, or hands that are deformed in some way.
  • Look at the faces.
    • Small faces are often distorted.
    • Skin is often too smooth and shiny.
  • Look for misspelled text in the image.
  • Look for inconsistent reflections

Keep in mind that AI image generators are continually getting better at generating realistic images, so these tips won’t always work.

Here are a couple of additional strategies for determining the origin of an image, video, or audio:

  • Use the Content Credentials website to look for metadata that indicates the origin of the image. Upload an image and it will tell you if it's been generated by Adobe, Microsoft, or OpenAI.
    • Not all image generation tools include this metadata. So if it shows a Content Credential, you know it was generated, but if it doesn't, you don't know whether it was generated with AI or not.
  • Do a reverse image search using Google Images, TinEye, or another tool. The results will show sites that contain the exact or similar images. This may help you determine its origin (whether it was AI-generated or not) and original context.
    • If it's not AI-generated, you will likely find it on more than one website, like news sites reporting on a story with that image. You’ll also find photos of the event from different angles.
    • If it was AI-generated, you might find other copies of it that are clearly marked as made with AI. There are many social media groups where people share AI-generated works and you might find your image there, confirming that it's AI-generated.

Adapted from What is a “deepfake?” And how can I recognize images that have been created with generative AI? by University of Arizona Libraries, © 2024 The Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of The University of Arizona, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.