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Protect Yourself from Misinformation

By Harrison Stites. The internet provides a platform for anyone to share information, and legitimate news must fight through the noise of misinformation to reach readers.  Misinformation is false or misleading information created by actors with malicious intent. It is especially dangerous when readers fail to detect its illegitimacy and perpetuate it by sharing it on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent MIT study, false information was 70% more likely to be retweeted than true news stories. Successful digital citizens must be able to discern credible information from intentionally misleading or biased misinformation. 

Cybercrime and misinformation are closely related. Phishing campaigns and social engineering almost always rely on some form of misinformation. Our best defense against cybercrime and misinformation is you, the well-informed user, equipped with the tools and knowledge that you need to protect yourself and your organization.  Misinformation threatens your ability to navigate digital environments, compromising your ability to decipher the legitimacy of information online.  Good cybersecurity is built on users’ capacity to independently distinguish fact from fiction, especially in instances of phishing or social engineering attempts. Fortunately, as members of a community of scholars and students, you likely already possess the skills you need to identify misinformation.  For example, you may use lateral reading to search beyond an article to verify the credibility of the author and publication using external sources. A quick Google search can reveal the underlying agenda of a publication and how it is funded. In addition to determining the publication’s credibility, it is useful to verify that the claims made within the article are backed up by evidence from research.  Be especially careful if an article does not credit an author, or the website is producing content that is outside their typical scope of expertise. It is important to read laterally when consuming new information, as “about the author” or “about us” pages within the site are not necessarily accurate and will not always reveal the funding or biases behind their reporting. Lateral reading can also be used to confirm facts and other pieces of evidence by cross-checking with another source.  

If you get news on social media, whether Facebook, Twitter, or something else, confirm the information through other verified sources. Misinformation is especially dangerous on social media, as it can reach a wide audience. Even true information may be sensationalized on social media to attract more attention. If a headline or article title seems too crazy to be true, it probably is. Ensure that the headline matches the article’s content to avoid wasting your time and energy on clickbait.  

While evaluating an argument, verify that the author supports the argument with concrete evidence.  Identifying and verifying evidence will prevent you from consuming misinformation. To verify evidence, you can use a fact-checker such as Snopes or in addition to using lateral reading. Identifying inaccurate or misleading evidence can prevent you from reaching unjustified conclusions.

Finally, reverse image searching helps detect the presence of misinformation. In many cases, images are repurposed and relabeled to lend credibility to a source. Verifying that images are legitimate and properly labeled is essential in determining whether the information is true. To do a reverse search, right-click the image and select “search Google for image.” Doing so will allow you to determine where an image originated and if it is being used in the proper context.

To summarize, misinformation represents an underappreciated aspect of cybersecurity. Individuals are the most important aspect of any secure system, and misinformation can threaten their security on the internet. It is important to take the time to confirm that information is correct. By using lateral reading, identifying evidence within an argument, and using reverse image searches, you can ensure that the information you consume and share is legitimate, protecting yourself and others from misinformation and cybercrime.