How to spot misinformation
The increased spread of misinformation during crisis events
Learn an important fact-checking skill: Image Verification
Become a better fact-checker
Detecting deception: Is everyone lying?
How to avoid becoming a fraud victim
Top Tips to protect your personal information (From a reformed cybercriminal!)
Sign up for AARP Washington's Free Online Speaker Series
In this era of technology and innovation, we have access to more information than at any other point in human history. Interactive platforms and Social Media has brought us closer, but they've also enabled the spreading of falsehoods and fraud on a massive scale. Our need for reliable information from sources we trust has never been higher, but many people just don't know who to believe anymore.
To help you reliably identify truth and avoid scams, we put out a survey to discover what your biggest questions about misinformation are, and in partnership with AARP Washington, assembled a panel of non-partisan experts to provide answers.
Chapter one: How to spot misinformation
For insight on the difference between misinformation and disinformation we went to Jevin West, Director of the Nonpartisan Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.
He told us the main difference is intent. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information in a general sense, shared regardless of an intent to mislead. On the other hand, disinformation is false information that is intentionally shared to mislead.
What should we look for to avoid consuming and sharing misinformation? West told us that some red flag indicators are headlines and stories that do any of these things:
- Provoke an intense emotional reaction
- Seem too good to be true or too bad to be true
- Vilify another group
EVENT INFO: Learn more at AARP's free online speaker series: Sorting Fact from Fiction. Jevin West will present Wed 9/16 and Sat 10/24. Pre-registration is required.
Chapter two: The increased spread of misinformation during crisis events
2020 has been an extraordinary year, and crisis events like COVID-19 pandemic, protests, civil unrest, and massive weather events have people looking for answers.
“What we’re seeing in this event, due to the long-term uncertainty and the fact that the event just keeps going and going with COVID-19, is that there is just more opportunity for people to get things wrong and spread misinformation,” said Kate Starbird, Associate Professor of Human-Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.
Her research shows that disinformation is more common in man-made events such as political campaigns and protests, versus natural disasters. Misinformation, on the other hand, can easily spread through all crises. Watch the full interview below!
Chapter three: Learn an important fact-checking skill: Image Verification
You've seen it - someone posts a picture that tells a dramatic story and blows your mind. Maybe it fits something you're hearing about in breaking news. But what if that picture is not what it seems? Or it's out of context?
Reporter Chris Hrapsky, KARE, showed us that it's not difficult to figure out if a picture is telling the right story by using Google Image Search.
Chapter four: Become a better fact-checker
David Mikkelson launched Snopes.com in 1994, before most people were even connected to the internet, making it the oldest fact-checking site online. He's been on the front lines of the infodemic since it began.
Our survey respondents cited website Snopes.com as their top recommend tool for fact-checking, so we asked David for tips on how to be better fact-checkers. He said in order to distinguish fact from fiction, people should:
- Learn to distinguish news from opinion
- Look for the same information to be reported by multiple reputable sources
- Check the publishing date; old news can easily be recycled
We also got to ask him a question that surfaced from our survey, "Is Snopes biased?"
EVENT INFO: Learn more at AARP's free online speaker series: Sorting Fact from Fiction. David Mikkelson will present Sat 10/24. Pre-registration is required.
Chapter five: Detecting deception: Is everyone lying?
Who can we trust, or should we trust when it comes to social media? Is everyone lying? How can you tell?
Professor Jeffrey Hancock, Founding Director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, says those are tough questions to answer, but that the distinction between our known and unknown networks on social media is an important one to understand, "We have found that social media doesn't have any overall effect on how much we lie to people in our interpersonal, or known network."
Conversely, people we don't know personally, who are trying to sell us something, sources we find unfamiliar, or unknown people you just met in a group are more likely to deceive us.
EVENT INFO: Learn more at AARP's free online speaker series: Sorting Fact from Fiction. Jeffery Hancock will present Wed 10/14. Pre-registration is required.
Chapter six: How to avoid becoming a fraud victim
Scams and fraud are a form of disinformation. Last year, there were 59 billion robo calls in the U.S. and AARP estimates at least half are fraud schemes, “Fraud has always been a problem,” said AARP Washington Director Doug Shadel.
“When we tend to be in a national crisis like we are now with the COVID situation, it just exacerbates it. During periods of economic uncertainty, that’s when all of the scammers come out. Everyone is in a heightened state of anxiety, and that makes us vulnerable.”
Shadel's tip on how to avoid becoming a fraud victim:
- Don't answer calls from name-brand companies because it may be a fraudulent robodialer. If you are concerned about your account, independently contact the company instead.
- Beware of "neighbor spoofing". Scammers can fake the number they are calling from, so it looks like it’s a local call.
- Watch for emotional and fear-based pitches. Research says that fear works better than promise of wealth for scammers because we are currently living in a heightened state of fear.
- Install a reputable robocall blocker on your phone. This can identify robodialers and can eliminate 90 to 95 percent of unwanted calls.
Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network free helpline if you or your loved one suspect a scam: 1-877-908-3360
Chapter seven: Top Tips to protect your personal information (From a reformed cybercriminal!)
Deep within the internet is the Dark Web, a space where criminals can anonymously buy and sell illegal goods and private information.
"It is not a question of if you're going to be victimized, it's a question of when," said Brett Johnson, aka the "Original Internet Godfather". He created one of the dark web’s first online stores where criminals bought stolen credit cards, Social Security numbers, drugs and guns. After serving seven years in prison, Brett turned his back on criminal enterprise and became a consultant for the Secret Service and the cybersecurity industry.
He said we should do these things right now to protect yourself from cybercriminals:
- Freeze the credit of everyone in the house (kids are the #1 victims of identity theft) to stop new account fraud.
- Monitor all account activity regularly: email, bank account, merchant logins, tax records, etc..
- Don't use the same password on multiple websites
EVENT INFO: Learn more at AARP's free online speaker series: Sorting Fact from Fiction. Brett Johnson will present Sat 10/3. Pre-registration is required.
Chapter eight: Sign up for AARP Washington's Free Online Speaker Series
To help Washingtonians better sort fact from fiction, AARP, the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU are offering a four-part series of free online events called Sorting Fact from Fiction: Finding truth in an infodemic. The event is open to everyone. Pre-registration is required. Sign up now at AARP.org/factfromfiction.
- Sep. 16, 11 AM -- Jevin West, Confronting Misinformation: How to avoid falling for and spreading misinformation, disinformation, and “fake news”
- Oct. 3, 11 AM -- Brett Johnson, Inside the Mind of "The Original Internet Godfather": A former Dark Web mastermind details how scammers convince you to hand over your hard-earned money
- Oct. 14, 6 PM -- Jeffrey Hancock, The Future of Lying: The new rules of deception and trust
- Oct. 24, 11 AM -- David Mikkelson & Jevin West, The Truth is Out There: Fact checking tips and resources
Sorting Fact From Fiction is sponsored by AARP Washington in partnership with the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU.