Digital Survival Skills Module 2: Types of Mis/Disinformation
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The information revolution of the 21st century is as significant and transformative as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In this unit, students – and by proxy their families – will learn about the challenges of our current information landscape and how to navigate them.
This unit is split into four modules. These modules can be done sequentially or stand on their own, depending on students’ needs and teachers’ timeframes. The modules culminate in a Digital Survival Skills Workshop hosted by students where they teach these skills to their community. If you plan to complete the culminating project, we suggest introducing it briefly at the beginning of Module 1 so students know what the end goal is. See Module 4 for introduction materials.
In this module (2 of 4), students learn to distinguish misinformation from disinformation. They explore examples of each and learn about the variety of motivations that cause people to create and share both types of false information.
WA Educational Technology Learning Standards
Knowledge Constructor - Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
While many people spread misinformation accidentally, some people create and spread disinformation intentionally to make money through ads that appear on their false articles, promote a specific agenda, sow dissent in communities, or pollute our information landscape enough that we feel it's too difficult to determine what's true and false. Misinformation and disinformation come in many forms, including articles, deepfake and shallow fake videos, and data visualizations.
- What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation? What are the motivations behind each?
- What forms do misinformation and disinformation take?
- Why is it important to combat the spread of misinformtion and disinformation?
Students will be able to…
- Self-assess their current understanding of online misinformation and ability to evaluate it
- Explain the difference between misinformation and disinformation and the motivations behind each
- Determine the motivation behind specific examples of online disinformation
- Identify real-world consequences of misinformation and disinformation
- Identify and redesign misleading data visualizations so that they reflect data accurately
- Testing our information evaluation skills
- Misinformation vs. Disinformation
- Misinformation in data
Task 1: Testing Our Information Evaluation Skills
*If you have skipped Module 1: My Media Environment, we recommend that students complete the My Media Environment assignment from that module. This will give you a greater understanding of what media your students are consuming and allow you to tailor these lessons to them and engage in richer conversations around evaluating information.
Students review real world consequences of misinformation and test their ability to evaluate online information.
1. Students write about the following question before sharing out: What are some effects of online misinformation? Why is it a problem? Give specific examples where you can.
2. Students watch the video 'Fake News' explained: How disinformation spreads by Global News about some of the real-world consequences of misinformation, then add to their writing as necessary from what they learned in the video.
3. Review: Since our social media feeds include information of varying quality, and sharing and liking unreliable or false information can have real world consequences, it’s our job to evaluate the information we receive before acting on it. John Green says we’re not good at this.
Optional: Watch the rest of the Crash Course video Introduction to Navigating Digital Information (7:43–12:25) to see proof that we’re not good at this, or read the results of the studies he mentions in one of these articles from Nieman Lab:
- “Troubling”: High school students (like most people) are not good at evaluating misinformation
- Even smart people are shockingly bad at analyzing sources online. This might be an actual solution.
Note: At the end of the video, Green says, “we’re going to fact-checker school!” Those fact-checking skills will be taught in Module 3 of this unit.
Be sure to impress on students that they are not the only group that has been shown to be bad at evaluating online information – professional historians and Stanford college students also weren’t great. This issue transcends age and education level – everyone needs to be better at it.
4. Individually or in pairs, students test their ability to evaluate online information with the following Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) Civic Online Reasoning assessments:
Note: You will have to create a free account on the SHEG site to access the materials. More assessments and lessons from the Stanford History Education Group can be found in their Civic Online Reasoning curriculum.
5. Students share out responses while the teacher or a student tracks and names what knowledge and skills students are already demonstrating when evaluating information, such as checking the source of the information, looking for a blue checkmark on social media, and understanding the meaning of phrases like "sponsored content."
Task 2: Misinformation Vs. Disinformation
Students learn the difference between misinformation and disinformation and explore examples of each. They also learn some of the motives behind individuals and organizations who create and spread disinformation.
Materials: Student Handout
1. Students look again at the Fukushima Flowers post by the Stanford History Education Group, which they now know is false. Students write on the Student Handout or turn and talk to respond to the questions: Why do you think people spread this photo on social media? Do you think they knew it was fake?
2. Share out student answers. Teacher shares the definitions of each word and asks students which term they believe best describes the Fukushima post. [Answer: this post is likely misinformation].
Misinformation: false information shared by mistake; unintentionally. The people spreading the information thinkit’s true.
Disinformation: false information shared intentionally. The people spreading the information know it’s wrong and are trying to deceive or confuse others.
3. Teacher explains that a lot of misinformation is spared this way – not by people trying to lie to you, but by people who think they’re sharing true information and being helpful.
4. But, there are people and groups – some of which have organized systems set up – that intentionally spread disinformation. What can this look like? Why do they do it? Students watch the following videos that depict a different example of disinformation. On the Student Hanodut, students summarize the video, explain why the example is categorized as disinformation (vs. misinformation), and state the goal(s) of the disinformation campaign’s creators.
- Macedonia's Fake News Factories by AJ+ (Al Jazeera)
- Deepfake videos (Choose one):
- Shallow fake videos (Choose one):
- Russia's social influence operation "worse" than originally thought by CBS News
5. Students complete the exit ticket on the Student Handout: What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation? What are three goals of disinformation campaigns?
Task 3: Misinformation in Data
Materials: Data Visualizations Slideshow
Students explore the ways that data – which people often automatically trust – can be manipulated to be misleading. Sometimes this is intentional (disinformation) and sometimes it’s due to unintentional bad design (misinformation).
1. Students look at the graph on the first slide of the Data Visualizations Slideshow and determine its message. Students share out, then teacher prompts them to find something wrong with the graph (the Y-axis doesn’t start at zero). Teacher then reveals how the graph looks with the Y-axis at zero and asks students to explain how the corrected graph changes the message.
2. Students choose how to learn about misinformation in data by doing one of the following:
- Read How to Call B.S. on Big Data from the New Yorker & 5 Ways Writers Use Misleading Graphs to Manipulate You from Venngage
- Watch Crash Course episode Data & Infographics
3. Individually or in pairs, students choose one of the examples in the Data Visualizations Slideshow and explain how it is misleading and how it could be improved. Optional: Beyond explaining, students create a version of the graph or chart they chose that presents the data accurately.
4. Students share out about each example graph.