Misinformation & Disinformation Explained

October 18, 2021

Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news have been around since the dawn of time. In our digital age, these types of information and news have spread like wildfire. On a daily basis, millions of enterprises and billions of netizens are interacting and communicating online using desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. The amount of generated big data is massive; the World Economic Forum estimated the total in 2020 at about 44 zettabytes. Needless to say, with this rapidly expanding number of big data, the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news also grows exponentially. This makes the identification, analysis, and follow-up of these types of information and news a growing challenge for analysts and investigators, adding more pressure on them.

The difference between misinformation, disinformation, and fake news

Let’s have a close look at how misinformation, disinformation, and fake news differ from each other. Misinformation is inaccurate or false information that is spread with the intention to inform others about inaccurate facts. There is no malice involved. Most conspiracy theories fall in this category. Disinformation, on the other hand, is intended to distort facts to serve a certain agenda. Disinformation can be a mix of truths and falsehoods. An example is a political campaign to undermine an opponent. In the case of fake news, the information is 100% false. Disinformation and fake news are often used by threat actors, criminal networks, terrorist organizations, and rogue regimes to conduct criminal acts or make a profit.

The fallout of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news campaigns

These types of campaigns are harmful, impacting all sectors of society. Misinformation or disinformation about e.g., vaccinations during an epidemic, can undermine the national health sector. Fake news about a product can bankrupt a company, impacting its suppliers, affiliates, and distributors. Hate speech based on rumors and innuendos can easily escalate into criminal acts. In short, misinformation, disinformation, and fake news must be taken seriously and addressed by the authorities since they harm the sheer fabric of our society.

Social media networks as main facilitators

Social media networks have become the preferred way for (threat) actors to spread their misinformation, disinformation, and fake news quickly and efficiently. When MIT researchers investigated a decade of posted information and news on Twitter, they found that false stories spread six times faster than true stories. With the growing popularity of social media, this number will expand exponentially.

Bots and the spreading of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news on social media networks

Bots are a cost-effective and efficient way to spread information. That’s why they are used in legitimate and illicit information and news campaigns. Bots are deployed by (threat actors to spread their misinformation, disinformation, and fake news on social media networks to get the widest reach in the shortest amount of time. Many accounts on social media (conservative estimations vary between 30% and 50%) are bot accounts, spreading information according to a preset schedule.

Determining the credibility of disseminated information and news

The only way to determine the credibility of information or news disseminated on social media networks and the internet in general is to analyze multiple big data sources. Analysts and investigators need to collect and analyze these huge amounts of data quickly and efficiently, which is humanly impossible. That’s why they turn to AI tools, ideally as part of a WEBINT solution. This helps analysts and investigators to analyze collected data based on four main criteria.

Is the conversation organic?

When assessing the credibility of information within different data sources, analysts and investigators must determine if conversations are organic or “botspeak”. Natural persons communicate and share information via original content and reposts, and by participating in conversations. Bots, on the other hand, are mainly reposting information and do not engage in conversations. An AI tool with NLP algorithms can assist in this task.

Is the originator of the information is a legitimate account or a bot one?

To determine if the originator of the information and news is a natural person or a bot, analysts and investigators must look at the account itself and its network. A natural person normally has first, second, and third-degree contacts. Bots will not have a layered network of contacts. This information also helps investigators in their criminal investigations.

What is the pattern and frequency for disseminating information and news?

Furthermore, botnets post and spread information and news according to a very specific preset schedule. Natural persons, on the other hand, might have a regular, but not such a strict schedule when they post. This a one of the indicators that the disseminated content is misinformation, disinformation, or fake news.

What is the purpose of disseminating information and news?

Another characteristic of botnets is, that they are normally deployed with a very specific purpose in mind. For example, a coordinated network of pro-China bot accounts, spanning 30 social media platforms and over 40 additional websites and forums, spread fake news in at least seven different languages. This makes it easier for analysts and investigators to pinpoint disinformation and fake news to take appropriate action. To conclude, by looking at the data sources and the information from the perspective of its intended audience, analysts and investigators can determine the credibility of information with a high degree of confidence. To do this quickly and accurately for actionable follow-up, an AI-powered WEBINT platform with NLP and ML algorithms is a must.