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Fake News, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Newsweek, 25 August 1986, p. 27.

Fake News and Beyond: Types of Information Content

Adapted and extended based on the definitions used by Melissa Zimdars' Open Sources project.

  • Fake News: Sources that entirely fabricate information, disseminate disinformation and deceptive content, or grossly distort actual news reports.
  • Misinformation: False information that is spread regardless of an intent to mislead.
  • Disinformation: False claims and information and conspiracy theories that are spread with the intent to mislead. Propaganda.
    For a clear explanation of the difference between misinformation and disinformation, see
  • DeepFakes: Use of video software to create events that never happened or distort a person's statements for propaganda purposes or to discredit public figures for political gain.
  • Satire: Sources that use humor, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, satire, and false information to comment on current events.
  • State-sponsored News: Sources, particularly in repressive or authoritarian states, operating under government control that create and spread disinformation.
  • Junk Science: Sources that promote discredited conspiracy theories or scientifically false or unverifiable claims.
  • Hate News: Sources that actively promote racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of violence, bias, and exclusion.
  • Clickbait: Sources that use exaggerated, misleading, or questionable headlines, social media descriptions, and/or images to generate traffic on a website.
  • Political: Sources that provide generally verifiable information but only when it supports certain points of view or political goals.
  • Credible: Sources that circulate news and information in a manner consistent with traditional and ethical practices in journalism. (Remember: even credible sources sometimes rely on clickbait-style headlines or occasionally make mistakes. No news organization is perfect, which is why a healthy news diet consists of multiple sources of information, especially sources that issue corrections on previous reporting).


“The opposite of truth is not just a lie. The opposite of truth is chaos." --spoken by Nikki Alexander, forensic pathologist in the BBC series Silent Witness.

Almost no one argues about who won the Super Bowl. The team that loses doesn't refuse to leave the field. The integrity of the game rests on a social contract--that people will accept the outcome of a competition, even they they weren't present at the game, even if they did not watch the game on television.

Why, then, do people refuse to accept factual information as true and choose to believe something false instead? The psychological and social dynamics of disinformation, media manipulation, and conspiracy theories are complex. Weaning people who are deeply committed to conspiracy theories (QAnon, AntiVaxxers, and the like) off their dependence on these false conspiracy theories may require approaches similar to those used to help people with treating addiction and cult issues. Audio from National Public Radio: Experts In Cult Deprogramming Step In To Help Believers In Conspiracy Theories

For insight into one aspect of how media disinformation is spread, see this report on "source hacking" that lays out the specifics on how media manipulators work: Source Hacking: Media Manipulation in Practice.