Fake News, Misinformation, and Disinformation as Cyber Security Threats
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WHAT IS FAKE NEWS?
“Fake news” is “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent. Fake-news outlets, in turn, lack the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information. Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people).”*
In this edition of the IT Security Series, we discuss why misinformation and disinformation are emerging as cyber security threats, share approaches to help us become more critical news consumers, and provide fact-checking tools to determine when news content, images, and videos have been manipulated to deceive viewers.
* David M. J. Lazer, et al., “The Science of Fake News,” Science 09 Mar 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1094-1096.
WHY ARE FAKE NEWS, MISINFORMATION, AND DISINFORMATION CYBER SECURITY THREATS?
Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation have been a problem for some time; however, factors such as the continual increase in the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks, election interference, and crises such as the COVID-19 “infodemic,” have made them a significant challenge for businesses, government agencies, financial markets, and the media.
The WHO defines an “infodemic” as an ‘overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that occurs during an epidemic’. Misinformation and disinformation can be harmful to people’s health, reduce the effectiveness of public health measures, and endanger countries’ abilities to manage health disasters.
Sharing fake news is dangerous and can cause individuals to act in harmful ways. It can damage your reputation. Sharing fake news or using it to support an argument can diminish your standing and credibility among your peers and colleagues.
Fake news can also create distrust in ALL news, including quality media outlets with high journalistic standards.
EXAMPLES OF DISINFORMATION
- deceptive advertising
- doctored photographs and manipulation of visual images
- forged documents
- historical fabrications
- fake transmissions
- internet fraud
- fake websites
- manipulated Wikipedia entries
BY THE NUMBERS
According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, concern over fake news or false information being used as a weapon is at an all-time high of 76%.
View the Full 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Report: https://www.edelman.com/trust/2022-trust-barometer
To better examine the ways Americans get news in a digital age, Pew Research Center surveyed 11,178 U.S. adults from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021. Forty-eight percent of respondents said the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content.
A little under half (48%) of respondents said they get news from social media “often” or “sometimes.” About a third (31%) said they get news regularly on Facebook.
EVALUATE THE NEWS
Here are some steps you can take to become a more critical news consumer:
Determine what type of article you are reading. Is it an editorial or opinion piece? These articles reflect the author’s personal beliefs and point of view. Untrustworthy sources can blur the line between reporting the facts and expressing opinions.
Verify what you are reading. Leave that site and look up the information on other sites. Is the general consensus agreeing with the original resource, or are you finding conflicting reports?
Find the original sources. Many fake or biased sites use previously published stories that have been edited and manipulated to fit their biased views. Look at what links and sources are used. This is also very helpful when it comes to quotations. Quotes can be easily manipulated by dropping leading sentences and using them out of context.
Check out the author and date. Is the author credible? Are they real? Also check the contact us page. Trustworthy news sites will provide information about their organization and provide a clear way to contact them. Be sure to check the date of the story as well. Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
Share Responsibly. This goes beyond just not sharing news stories until you have determined they are genuine, but also not sharing fake news. When you share a piece of fake news you are raising its publicity and advertisement revenues.
Beware of native advertising. Native advertisements are designed to look like the rest of the page but are actually paying for their content to be displayed. They are trying to get readers to mistake their links as legitimate news to get more traffic to their site.
Pop your filter bubble (sometimes referred to as an “echo chamber”). Online services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix use algorithms to determine what information to deliver to you. Google shows different search results based on what you’ve searched for before. Facebook tailors your news feed based on who you interact with. Twitter suggests who to follow based on other people you follow. And Netflix suggests new things to watch based on what you’ve already watched. Your “filter bubble” refers to the idea that this automated personalization, though helpful in some ways, can isolate you from other information. This tendency to believe in information and stories you already agree with is called confirmation bias. You can pop your filter bubble and lose your confirmation bias by visiting sites with different opinions and biases.
- Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart not only rates different media outlets’ biases but also their reliability and accuracy in an interactive chart.
- AllSides Media Bias Ratings uses multiple methods to rate the biases of media outlets. Their goal is to help people discover their own biases the break out of their filter bubbles.
- Botometer, developed through The Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe, pronounced awe•some) project at Indiana University, will check a Twitter account to determine the likelihood of it being an actual persona or a bot created to spread fake news.
- FactCheck.org is a nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. They monitor U.S. political figures for accuracy to increase public knowledge and reduce confusion about U.S. politics.
- Hoaxy, also developed through the OSoMe project, will show you how fake news spreads through tweets on Twitter using conceptual mapping.
- Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC) is an impartial website that rates biases, integrity, and truthfulness of online news sources. They have over 3,900 news entities and journalists in their database and continuously add to those names.
- OpenSecrets, nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.
- PolitiFact, started in 2007, focuses on reviewing published statements and information surrounding political figures in the United States for truthfulness. Their “Truth-O-Meter” uses 6 levels to rate stories from True all the way to “Pants on Fire.” PolitiFact partners with Facebook and TikTok to help try and slow the spread of misinformation online.
- At RealorSatire.com, you can copy and paste a URL in their search box to determine if it is a legitimate news site or a satirical site.
- Snopes.com, started in 1994, attempts to give accurate information about rumors, misinformation, folklore, myths and urban legends on a variety of topics, including war, business, events, toxins, science, military, and popular culture.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
- The PunditFact/PolitiFact fake news quiz reviews questions you should ask while reading online news. The results can help you determine if you should reconsider the source or if it seems reliable.
- Take the Spot the Troll quiz where YOU examine images of real social media content and decide whether it’s from a legitimate account or an internet troll.
- The Factious game is designed to test your news sense. Can you spot fake news from real news? It even has a 2020 Pandemic version. Swipe left for fake or right for real. Created by JoLT and AU Game Lab.
For more information, visit the websites below, the ITCS website, or contact Pirate Techs at (local) 252-328-9866 or (toll free) 800-340-7081.
- Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news: Cyber risks to business (Business Horizons)
- Misinformation poses threat to business, political process (American Bar Association, Law and National Security)
- How to Report MDI (Misinformation and Disinformation) on Social Media (Security.org)
- Beware online “filter bubbles” / Eli Pariser (YouTube TED)
- Project Information Literacy