IO1-G. Disinformation types: practical examples
Browse and discover our collection of examples of different types of mis- and disinformation. We are constantly adding new examples - as a result the content of this page changes often.
An important word of caution - the authors advise that the category system was designed with practicality in mind, so we intentionally avoided the surgical precision work in devising a complex typology with razor-sharp delimiters. There will be, perhaps often, disinformation types which will fall within more than one category. An example featured in the list below is the so-called Pizzagate, which is both a consipracy theory (by nature), and ideology-related content (by motivation for creating/using it to inflict harm).
Satire, parody and memes
Satire: the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, exaggeration or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly to criticize elements of society
Parody: an exaggerated imitation of the style of a genre
Meme: online spread captioned pictures or GIF’s, meant to be humorous or critical for people or society
Can become disinformation when misinterpreted and/or re-used as a fact
Satire in literature
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (example provided by Literary Devices)
Jonathan Swift, one of the leading satirists of his day, wrote Gulliver’s Travels (access the full text of the book at Project Gutenberg) as a satire of human nature and especially an anti-Whig satire. Lemuel Gulliver travels to several different lands, including the famous encounter with the Lilliputians, a society of people only a few inches tall. One example of satire in the book is that some Lilliputian men wear high heels and others wear low heels. The men who wear low heels are in power and will only appoint other men to government who wear low heels. Clearly, government appointments have nothing to do with ability—this is a direct attack on the separation of Whigs and Tories in English culture.
Satire in movies and TV-shows
- Downsizing (2017)
- The Truman Show (1998)
- The Simpsons
- The Office
An IMDB list of social satire movies: link
Additional satire resources
The Media Bias/Fact Check is a US initiative which, among other things, monitors and ranks media outlets which regularly use satire. As announced by the initiative, "these sources exclusively use humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. Primarily these sources are clear that they are satire and do not attempt to deceive."
You can find many more examples at Know Your Meme, a website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more. It contains a large collection of memes and videos and provoides important additional information, such as origin, history and backgorund for each item.
Parody in movies
Reuse of memes in different contexts
China bans Winnie the Pooh film after comparisons to President Xi
Advertising and sponsored content
Paid announcements and activities, in order to persuade people to buy products or services
Can become disinformation when used to harm, to mislead or without a real context
Volkswagen clean disel campaign
The Federal Trade Commission has charged in March 2016 that Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. deceived consumers with the advertising campaign it used to promote its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis, which Volkswagen fitted with illegal emission defeat devices designed to mask high emissions during government tests.
The FTC is seeking a court order requiring Volkswagen to compensate American consumers who bought or leased an affected vehicle between late 2008 and late 2015, as well as an injunction to prevent Volkswagen from engaging in this type of conduct again.
L’Oréal deceptive anti-aging and gene boosting claims
Cosmetics company L’Oréal USA, Inc. was charged by the FTC of deceptive advertising about its Lancôme Génifique and L’Oréal Paris Youth Code skincare products. L’Oréal made false and unsubstantiated claims that these products provided anti-aging benefits by targeting users’ genes.
In national advertising campaigns that encompassed print, radio, TV, Internet, and social media outlets, L’Oréal claimed that its Génifique products were “clinically proven” to “boost genes’ activity and stimulate the production of youth proteins that would cause “visibly younger skin in just 7 days,” and would provide results to specific percentages of users. For Lancôme Génifique, the ads claimed they "crack the code of youth". When challenged, L’Oréal couldn’t support these claims and in 2014 settled the case with the US regulator, BBC reported.
Rating and review content
Rating: Classification and measurement to rank and rate how good or popular something is. This can also include fake followers
Review: Critical article in order to evaluate something
Can become disinformation when used to harm, to mislead or without a real context
Trip and hotel reviews
British shoppers are being deceived into buying products online by unscrupulous sellers on Amazon using fake and paid-for reviews, an investigation has found, reports The Telegraph in 2018. The investigation by Which?, the consumer magazine, found Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members were being offered free or discounted products in exchange for positive reviews.
Further investigations by Which? were reported by The Guardian in April 2019 confirming a "flood of fake five-star reviews" is still a major problem for Amazon. As an example of the magnitude of the problem, "one set of headphones made by the brand Celebrat had 439 reviews. All were five-star, all unverified, and all arrived on the same day". In one particular product group, 87% of more than 12,000 reviews for the products were by unverified purchasers. “Our research suggests that Amazon is losing the battle against fake reviews, with shoppers bombarded by comments aimed at artificially boosting products from unknown brands,” said Natalie Hitchins, the head of home products at Which?.
FIVE STAR 'FAKERY' is the title which The Sun chose for its article on fake hotel reviews. One in three TripAdvisor reviews are FAKE’ with hotels and restaurants buying glowing reviews for £7. Investigation finds that a large number of reviews on the site seem to have been uploaded by websites which offer glowing praise for a fee.
False connection and misinterpreted content
Wrongly interpreted, explained or incorrectly understood content - with or without intention
Can become disinformation when the receiver of the information doesn’t notice or isn’t aware of the error and as a result believes something in a wrong way
Wrongly interpreted statistics - misuse of numerical data
Data and statistics are often misinterpreted in one or more of the following ways:
- misleading data visualisation (also check this excellent data visualisation catalogue)
- wrong correlation (remember that correlation does not mean causation)
- data fishing (also known as data dredging)
- using percentages instead of amounts (in case of small sample size)
We recommend that you watch the Ted-Ed's “How statistics can be misleading" video by Mark Liddell (currently available with subtitles in 25 languages).
U.S. public health officials have been combating misconceptions about vaccine safety for over twenty years. They’ve had mixed success. Despite the fact that numerous studies have found no evidence to support the notion that vaccines cause autism and other chronic illnesses, a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. Misconceptions arise - int his particular case - because there is a poor general understanding of how vaccines work. For example, This article provides a summary of the most common misconceptions related to vaccination:
> The “Overloaded Immune System” Misconception
> The “Disappeared Diseases” Misconception
> The “More Vaccinated Than Unvaccinated People Get Sick” Misconception
> The “Hygiene and Better Nutrition Are Responsible for the Reduction in Disease Rates, Not Vaccination” Misconception
> The “Natural Immunity Is Better Than Vaccine-acquired Immunity” Misconception
The lessons of famous science frauds is an article shedding light on two cases in which scientists have failed the standards.
Michael LaCour was a promising young social scientist until his eye-catching study about swaying public opinion on gay marriage, published last year in one of the world’s leading journals, turned out to have been built on data that can’t be found.
Anil Potti was a rising star at Duke whose studies of cancer genetics drew heaps of praise — and research dollars — until his academic career crumbled under questions about his résumé, and the integrity of his findings.”
A collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method
Can become disinformation when the receiver of the information doesn’t notice or isn’t aware of the error and as a result believes something in a wrong way
The rise and fall of the phrenology in the 19th tells the story of a pseudoscience which claimed that measuring the contour of the skull can predict personality traits. It was developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796. During the first half of the 19th century, and arguably beyond, it offered a clear-cut explanation for why people behaved the way they did. And it was hailed by many as an extraordinarily effective explanatory tool. Read an intriguing article on the history of phrenology in The Conversation.
Interestingly, phrenology was expected, albeit for a short period of time, with great expectations with regard to its impact on education, criminology, psychiatry, and even became a trigger for more humane treatment of the mentally ill.
See a list of what is currently recognised as pseudoscience
A list with examples from the domain of physical, applied and social sciences, which are currently classified as pseudoscience, are available from Wikipedia.
Why people believe in weird things?
Americans who don’t want to vaccinate are increasingly getting their way: A June study found that, over the past decade, the number of philosophical vaccine exemptions rose in two-thirds of the states that allow them.
What drives these wrongheaded decisions is fear — fear that vaccines are somehow dangerous, even though research shows the opposite. And these choices have consequences.
A humorous or malicious deception usually created to generate believe, sympathy or fear, using mechanisms to persuade by false proofs
Can become disinformation when the receiver of the information doesn’t notice or isn’t aware of the false proofs and as a result believes the hoax message
What is a hoax?
What actually is a hoax? Read this comprehensive material on what hoaxes are is and how to recognise them. (resource by GData Software). Also, here is a great collection of hoaxes curated by History.com.
The Spaghetti Tree
The spaghetti-tree hoax was a three-minute hoax report broadcast on April Fools' Day 1957 by the BBC current-affairs programme Panorama, purportedly showing a family in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the family "spaghetti tree". At the time spaghetti was relatively little known in the UK, so many Britons were unaware that it is made from wheat flour and water; a number of viewers afterwards contacted the BBC for advice on growing their own spaghetti trees.
The video featured groups of farmers, working in pairs, "harvesting" spaghetti noodles from branches, and lying them out in the sun in large baskets to dry. The announcer, BBC's respected Richard Dimbleby, noted that the spaghetti harvest would be particularly bountiful that year, thanks to the almost complete eradication of the spaghetti tree’s main predator, the spaghetti weevil.
Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the story after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria teased his classmates for being so stupid that if they were told that spaghetti grew on trees, they would believe it.
At the time, 7 million of the 15.8 million homes in Britain had television receivers. An estimated eight million people watched the programme on 1 April, and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.
The Moon hoax
There is an abundance of theories and websites that try to persuade people that there’s never been a human landing on the Moon. Here is one recap of the arguments and debate surrounding the issue. But regardless of the numerous and meticulous debunking of these beliefs, they persist.
In March 2018, the online edition Chinadaily reported data from a poll showing the 57% of Russians believe that there has never been a manned lunar landing and are convinced that the US government falsified videos, photos and other material evidence regarding the 1969 Apollo 11 expedition (poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center - VCIOM).
Another poll made in the UK in 2016 reportedly showed a stunning 52% of those surveyed think that the Apollo 11 Moon landing – clearly one of the most well-documented and truly defining moments of our species’ entire history – was faked. Horrifically, those aged 25 to 34 were the most deluded, with 73 percent of them considering the entire thing to be a highly elaborate hoax.
Conspiracy theory content
A belief that some covert but influential organisation is responsible for an unexplained event
How popular are conspiracy theories
We recommend an article from our own De Facto publications feed with recent data on the support for conspiracy theories and beliefs. One of the surveys on which the article reports finds shows that 72% of Italians believe in at least one conspiracy theory, compared to 80% of the Portuguese, 72% of the Polish, 76% of the French, 64% of the Americans, 52% of the Swedish, 65% of the Germans, 85% of the Hungarians, and 60% of the British.
In the run-up to the US' 2016 presidential elections, a made-up story spread on social media claimed a paedophile ring involving high-profile members of the Democratic Party was operating out of the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC. In early December, a man walked into the restaurant - which does not have a basement - and fired an assault rifle. Remarkably, no one was hurt.
Infowars, one of the websites which actively propagated false Pizzagate-content, reportedly apologised in March 2017. The Infowars website, a far-right media known for publishing conspiracy theories, false news and propaganda (website intentionally not linked) still contains the original articles.
Pizzagate is an example of both partisan/ideological content and conspiracy theory content.
The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
There is one study from 2017 by researchers at the University of Kent's School of Psychology which explores the psychology of conspiracy theories and what psychological factors drive the popularity of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories explain important events as secret plots
by powerful and malevolent groups.
Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group).
However, little research has investigated the consequences of conspiracy belief, and to date, this research does not indicate that conspiracy belief fulfills people’s motivations. Instead, for many people, conspiracy belief may be more appealing than satisfying. Further research is needed to determine for whom, and under what conditions, conspiracy theories may satisfy key psychological motives.
Another study from 2018 looks into conspiracy theories as evolved functions and psychological mechanisms.It proposes, among other things, that "people possess a functionally integrated mental system to detect conspiracies that in all likelihood has been shaped in an ancestral human environment in which hostile coalitions—that is, conspiracies that truly existed—were a frequent cause of misery, death, and reproductive loss".
Ideological content that includes interpretation of facts or assumptions, although it is claimed to be neutral, and is often meant to harm ideological opponents
"Brexit: Facts vs Fear" is a short video narrated by Stephen Fry. It explains how some of the Brexit campaign manipulations played out and how fear and deception were used to amplify a political message and sway voters.
The Vote Leave campaign used visuals which falsely claimed that Turkey, with its population of 76 million, is joining the EU. In fact, Turkey is indeed in accession talks with the EU and had applied for membership in the then EEC as far back as 1987, with little progress made so far and with deepening rifts between the two sides. The campaigners presented a very low-likelihood possibility as an imminent fact and played on fears, with visuals (see below) clearly implying an exodus of Turkish citizens heading for the EU. There also the notorious red bus with the claim of 350 million pounds a week that the UK sends to the EU. The number has been debunked, but prominent brexiteers continue to make the claim which resonates well with their electorate.
Many false claims were made by both sides of the debate, all attempting to bend facts and interpret them in support of their own political view.
EU migration issues and political debate
An article in the Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica by Stella Gianfreda investigates the politicization of the 2015 refugee crisis in the EU. It looks at the positions held by the main centre-left, centre-right, Radical Right, and Populist Parties in the Italian, British, and European Parliaments. The content analysis shows that centre-left parties frame the refugee crisis mainly as a humanitarian emergency and held pro-EU positions, while centre-right parties differ substantially between Italy and the United Kingdom.
Here are some facts on the migrant crisis by the European Parliament.
NOT Kidnapped and raped by three refugees
This is a story of how disinformation can be used for political gains. A Russian-born 13-year-old girl, known only as Lisa F, claimed in January last year that she was kidnapped and raped by three refugees while living in Berlin. The story provoked a huge response on social media. Russian news outlets ran with the news before the police could complete their investigation. It also sparked protests in Berlin, where campaigners condemned Angela Merkel's refugee policy.
The story went so far that Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused the German government of trying to cover it up and of "sweeping problems under the rug." In return, Berlin warned Russia not to exploit the case for propaganda.
Just days after the report, Berlin police concluded their investigation and said the girl had spent the 30 hours in which she was reportedly kidnapped with people she knew — and that a medical examination had shown she had not been raped. They did open an investigation into two suspects.
This did not stop Russian and other media from warning repeatedly over migrants raping women and children in Europe. Most worryingly, many German Russians still refused to believe the German police or government after the story was disproved.
Genuinely pretending to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain
Fake profiles on Facebook
The world's largest social network is struggling in a battle against fake profiles as digital thieves steal identities, endanger children and hurt small businesses. The problem has become so big that Facebook said that it has disabled over 1.3 billion fake profiles just in the past year.
An example of imposter activity was reported by The Verge in December 2018. An account imitating The Verge's own FB profile commented on a legitimate thread from the company, attempting to draw users into sending bitcoin. “We are excited to be partnering with Bitcoin,” read the comment, which further claimed to be offering a giveaway in exchange for providing a small sum of bitcoin to “verify your address.”
Identity theft happens when someone uses information about a person without permission. This can be:
- name and address
- bank cards such as credit card or bank account numbers
- identity or social security number
- phone or utility account numbers
- medical insurance numbers
Imposters are much more efficient in inflicting harm when, in addition to a fake account or profile, they are in possession of any of the personal data mentioned above. This amplifies the deception and the harm impact.
Artificial intelligence (AI) bogus and deep fake content
AI bogus: entirely fabricated content, mostly by computer software, spread intentionally to mislead; AI bogus also relates to content which is intentionally created by humans but presented as an output of an impartial and reliable AI system
Deep fake: combines artificial intelligence and deep learning to mix existing images and videos onto source images or videos in order to mislead
AI bogus matchmaking
There are a lot of matchmaking companies, consultants, and apps in existence. In the last few years, many matchmaking apps have resorted to AI in order to improve their success rates. In practical terms, AI use in matchmaking implies a process very similar to what is known as Recommender Engines (or Recommender Systems) -- the machine-learnign algorithms behind Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, etc. who make predictions/recommendations based on past behaviour and patterns.
To illustrate what a bogus AI case is, we will construct a very simple fictional example. An online matchmaking agency -- which has been carefully observing the technological developments and the use of AI in their sector -- has identified a very good growth potential and an opportunity for grabbing market share. Unfortunately, the company lacks IT expertise and is not in a position to back financially the implementation of AI in their work. Determined not to miss the momentous market opportunity, the company announces that it is using AI for matchmaking in a complex and superbly effective manner. The company claims that any subscriber on their service will receive their best match within 24 hours. In fact, since there is no AI solution deployed, the company's dating consultants preform "manual match" and mislead their clients, who believe that they are receiving a match recommendation from a well informed and unbiased system which processes large amounts of information and provides effectiveness and efficiency superior to human consultants. The bogus is possible because the clients can only see the front-end and have no knowledge or access to the back-end processes
ScaleFactor Raised $100 Million In A Year Then Blamed Covid-19 For Its Demise
Kurt Rathmann told his big-name investors he had developed groundbreaking AI to do the books for small businesses. In reality, humans did most of the work.
Read the full story by author David Jeans for Forbes here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidjeans/2020/07/20/scalefactor-raised-100-million-in-a-year-then-blamed-covid-19-for-its-demise-employees-say-it-had-much-bigger-problems/
AI helps David Beckham "speak" 9 languages
The #MalariaMustDie campaign launched in April 2019 features David Beckham's video in which he appeals to the public delivering a message in 9 languages. The video was created using AI technology.
Note that in this case there is no intent to deceive, but the technology is used to maximise the campaign reach.
Read De Facto's detailed post on this here.
China's Xinhua creates a virtual news anchor using AI
In November 2018, the China’s Xinhua news agency announced that it has created, using AI, the world’s first virtual news anchor. A more extended coverage of the story is available from BBC.
Fake Obama created using AI
Researchers at the University of Washington have produced a photorealistic former US President Barack Obama. Artificial intelligence was used to precisely model how Mr Obama moves his mouth when he speaks. Their technique allows them to put any words into their synthetic Barack Obama’s mouth.
The future of fake news: don't believe everything you read, see or hear
A new breed of video and audio manipulation tools allow for the creation of realistic looking news. More info in this article by The Guardian.