Cybersecurity expert explains intentions behind misinformation, gives advice on how to tackle it
During uncertain times such as the current Ukraine-Russia war, clashes are happening not only for territorial gains, but for public opinion as well. Misinformation has been a worrying issue long before the advent of the internet, but the technology has made the problem exponentially worse, while power struggles on the world stage exacerbate it even further.
“Actors from both governments and commercial entities tend to exploit current events to push a narrative that benefits their end goals. Governments might use disinformation campaigns to justify their actions and maintain spheres of influence, while companies spread misinformation for the sake of increased engagement and thus greater revenue. In times like this, it is as important as ever to stay vigilant and restrict your consumption of information to sources you know are reliable,” says Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN.
How does misinformation spread?
The spread of misinformation concerns both the content of the messages and the technological foundation of platforms on which the news is proliferated. Misinformation is usually related to current affairs and makes remarkable, emotion-inducing claims. Social media algorithms feed their users content that is most likely to increase likes, shares, and comments instead of focusing on providing their users with quality, fact-checked content. Prioritization of such content leaves social media littered with posts that make bold and easy-to-digest statements and skip explaining the situation in detail – a perfect way for misinformation to proliferate.
“Most of the time, the truth is messy and boring with many actors involved and interpretations of events available. On the other hand, rumors, bold claims, and simple fixes are easy to digest and entertaining, which may be more appealing to an audience. The attention-grabbing factor of misinformation combined with social media’s hunger for ever-greater attention from users make them a pair made in heaven,” says Daniel Markuson.
Misinformation in war is nothing new – in “GOTCHA! – The Media, The Government and the Falklands Crisis” author Robert Harris revealed somewhat disturbingly that the storming of Goose Green was reported in the UK several days before it actually happened. Of course, now, online, it’s harder still – because anyone, anywhere, can share a story online.
What can be done to identify and fight misinformation?
While tackling misinformation on a large scale is the responsibility of platforms on which misinformation spreads, Daniel Markuson recommends these practices to ensure the trustworthiness of the information you consume:
- Make sure that your news comes from established, well-known sources. These types of outlets get information directly from primary sources and must uphold their reputation.
- Look into the author, research them, and make sure their credibility is up to par.
- Weigh the claims against other sources. If a publication makes monumental claims that are exclusive to that platform, do not take them at face value.
- Be skeptical of news you see on social media, get your news directly from dedicated websites, and report social media posts that you have identified as misinformation.
- Check the page URL. Fake websites tend to impersonate well-known ones by misspelling their names. Similarly, be suspicious of unconventional domain extensions instead of the usual “.com” or “.org.”
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