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Misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, and fake news

Learn how to identify and avoid misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, and fake news.

"Fake News." What is it?

Sorting through the vast amount of information created and shared online is challenging even for experts. This guide defines terms including and related to "fake news" while offering resources and information to avoid both reading and sharing it.

These are important information evaluation skills that you'll use for the rest of your life. The more aware you are of what false information is and how it spreads, the better you will be at avoiding it yourself - and helping your friends and family do the same.

Misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, and fake news: What's the difference?

Venn diagram should two overlapping circles. The circles are labeled, left to right, falseness and intent to harm. Inside the circles, left to right, and the labels misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation

CCBY4.0 image: First Draft News

Term Definition Source
misinformation “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead”
disinformation "deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda”
malinformation Information that is true, but shared with the intent to harm. Harm is "derived from either the true statement being shared out of context or at a particularly vulnerable point for the malinformation target" Iona University
fake news "purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news"  Fake news: understanding media and misinformation in the digital age (back cover)
deepfake "an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said"

I'm smart. Why do I believe false information?

Disinformation, malinformation, and fake news are effective. Our brains can easily make us believe that false information and fake news is real and true through something called "confirmation bias." Watch this video (5m20) by Above The Noise to learn more.

Why care about false information or fake news?

When people believe that false information is real and true, it can lead to poor decision-making and actions. When people make decisions or take action based on false information shared with an intent to cause harm, the results are dangerous and unpredictable. Current events around elections, COVID-19, social justice, public schooling, healthcare and many more issues are all impacted by false information and fake news. You and I are seeing this, in real time, in our communities.

Watch this video (3m19s) examining the characteristics and purposes of real news (factual journalism) and fake news. This video also touches on the implications on our society and democracy. Video by University of Louisville.

What makes a news story fake?


Deepfakes are a new and particularly challenging type of audio, video, or image disinformation, generally used in malicious ways. They have the potential to rapidly spread false words and actions to a global audience, and can be extremely difficult to distinguish from real content. 

Suggested readings to understand deepfake technology:

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