Navigating the Information Wars

Fear is a powerful motivator and is the root of the emotion being displayed in this posting taken from Facebook. Much of this fear is based on false and misleading information communicated through social media and less-than-reputable news websites.

The first step in combating misinformation is to understand the categories.

  • Hoax
  • Intentionally Misleading
  • Unintentionally Misleading
  • Outdated
  • Parody/Satire


Misinformation is often shared to fool the reader. Our example below depicts Lance Armstrong holding a phone displaying an article stating that he is dead. The intent of the creator is often not apparent.

Intentionally Misleading

Misinformation that is created and shared with the intention of misleading the reader usually in support or opposition of a particular person, event, or ideology. Many times this misinformation is political in nature. This can often be a strongly-biased article that contains factual information presented in a way that only tells part of the story. This is the largest and potentially most damaging category of misinformation.

Classic examples are propaganda, clickbait, pseudoscience, and sponsored content. Propoganda is promoting or publicizing a particular political cause or point-of-view while clickbait are sensationalized headlines used the draw readers resulting in generation of revenue. Clickbait could be defined as modern day Yellow Journalism. Pseudoscience includes beliefs, theories, or practices that have been or are considered scientific, but have no basis in scientific fact. Sponsored content is when advertisements are designed to look like news or editorials.

The example given below is a website that seems to portray factual information about Martin Luther King, but is actually owned and operated by a white suprematist organization.

Unintentionally Misleading

This type of misinformation occurs when someone misunderstands or misidentifies a piece of information. The example below was captured on Facebook on on July 1, 2017 but was originally posted in 2010. The video being shared misidentifies the song as the “full version” of Taps but is in fact Il Silenzio, a song written in 1965, about 200 years after the original.


Outdated information is simply content that is no longer current or valid. One of the most common examples of outdated information are postings concerning missing or lost pets or children. The example below was collected in June of 2018 and had been shared consistently since its original posting on August 5, 2013. If anyone sharing that post and taken a few seconds to search the names of the kids, they would have found the tragedy surrounding this situation.

Parody and Satire

Parodies, also known as spoofs, are exaggerated imitations of an original work that are usually intended to be humorous while satire is using humor, exaggeration, irony, or ridicule to expose or criticize people or organizations. While both of these categories are typically exaggerated enough to be easily identified as misinformation, they are often intended to point out some either real or perceived injustice perpetrated by a person or organization.

Examples of these include almost every political cartoon ever published as well as many movies, songs, and YouTube videos. The movie “Scream” parodies the slasher films of the 1970-80s.