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March 13, 2023

Don’t believe everything you see

How AI is spreading mis-, dis- and mal-information and what to do about it 

Have you ever come across a viral post or news story that seemed too good to be true? Or maybe you’ve seen a video that looked so realistic you couldn’t tell if it was real or fake? Welcome to the world of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.

A venn diagram with a small overlap between the two circles. In the outline of the left circle is the word 'falseness' and in the right circle 'intent to harm'. Inside the left circle is the word misinformation, in the overlapping section is the word disinformation, and in the right circle is the word malinformation.

Understanding Information Disorder‘ by First Draft News is licenced under CC-BY 4.0.

What is mis-, dis-, and mal-information? 

Misinformation is false or misleading information that is spread either intentionally or unintentionally. It can be spread through social media, news outlets, or word of mouth. Misinformation is often created to generate clicks, likes, or views, or to promote a particular agenda or ideology.

Can you tell if comments are from a genuine account or professional troll? Play Spot the Troll game 

Disinformation is similar to misinformation, but it’s spread with the intent to deceive. Disinformation can be spread by governments, political campaigns, or individuals with a specific agenda. Disinformation is often used to sow discord, influence elections, or discredit individuals or organizations.

Would you know if you were watching a deepfake? Play the game  

Mal-information is true information that is spread with the intent to harm someone’s reputation or cause other forms of harm. Mal-information can be used to shame or embarrass someone, or to spread fear or panic. Mal-information can be spread through gossip, social media, or news outlets. Examples of mal-information include phishing, doxing, swatting and revenge porn. 

As the above chart shows, these categories are not fixed and can change over time. For example, if misinformation is proven to be false but people continue to share it, it can become disinformation. Similarly, malinformation can transform into disinformation if it gains enough traction on social media and modifies the original narrative.


Mis-, dis-, and mal-information gone viral 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become the sneaky accomplice of mis-, dis-, and mal-information, promoting to their viral spread online. For instance, deepfakes, AI-manipulated videos and images, can now deceive users with such high accuracy that it can be hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. These manipulations can spread like wildfire across social media, making it harder for us to distinguish between fact and fiction. An example is the deepfake videos of Tom Cruise, that went viral on TikTok, showing just how convincing these manipulations can be. 

TikTok, in particular, has become a hotbed for the spread of misinformation, with videos ranging from COVID-19 conspiracy theories to false information about the US election. The platform’s algorithm-based content curation system has been criticised for allowing misleading content to go viral, without fact-checking. Some users have even used TikTok to spread dangerous misinformation related to mental health, promoting harmful and unproven treatments. 

But deepfakes aren’t the only way that AI is contributing to the spread of false information. Have you ever noticed how social media seems to know exactly what you like and what you don’t? That’s because algorithms powered by AI are constantly analysing your behaviour to figure out what to show you next. While this can be helpful in some cases, it can also lead to a “filter bubble” where you’re only exposed to information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. This can make it harder to recognise when something is false or misleading. 

Adding to the challenge, AI-powered bots have also become part of the misinformation landscape, amplifying, and spreading false information to create the illusion of support for certain theories or narratives. Researchers are predicting that this will only get easier as generative AI use grows. The result? False information goes viral, making it harder for us to find accurate information. 

So how can you spot misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information?

We’ve put together a few tips:  

  1. Check the source: Make sure the source of the information is trustworthy and reputable. Don’t trust information from questionable websites or sources you don’t know. Test your source checking skills with the ABC Source Checker game. 
  2. Look for supporting evidence: Try to find other sources that agree with the information to make sure it’s accurate. Don’t rely on just one source. 
  3. Watch out for emotional language: False information often uses strong language or tries to make you feel a certain way. Be careful of information that seems too dramatic or emotional. Watch this video about climate change – did you pay more attention to specific information that supports your beliefs?  
  4. Fact-check: Use reliable fact-checking resources like RMIT ABC Fact Check to verify the accuracy of the information. 
  5. Be cautious on social media: social media can be a source of false information, so be careful when consuming information from social media. Verify the accuracy of the information before accepting it as true. 
  6. Be aware of bias: We all have our own beliefs and opinions, but it’s important to be aware of them when evaluating information. Try to approach new information with an open mind and consider alternative perspectives. Test yourself with Harvard’s Implicit Bias test 
  7. Use resources provided by Deakin University: We have created resources to help students understand misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. Check out our Misinformation Libguide. 

By being aware of these tips, you can protect yourself and others from being misled by false information. Plus, it’s always more fun to be a savvy internet user than to fall for a hoax or fake news story! 

Have you ever come across a mis/dis/mal-information story or deepfake? Let us know in the comments below.

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