How to speak disinformation: A glossary of terms

This is part of “Can You Believe It?” a series of stories and resources focused on giving you the tools to fight disinformation heading into Election 2020. You can find more resources here. What have you been seeing? Share here.

Confirmation bias? Twitter bot?

If you want to navigate disinformation, you’ll have to learn the language. Here’s a guide to some of the jargon you’ll likely hear when people talk about disinformation campaigns.

Algorithm: As defined by Merriam-Webster, “a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end.” In the context of disinformation, it’s a set of rules that tell a computer what to do and often refers to rules that govern your social media feeds. Most algorithms use data on how you’ve used those platforms in the past to determine what you’ll see — or not see — in the future.

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Bot: A software application that completes automated tasks, such as connecting you with a customer support representative. In the context of disinformation, it’s often used to describe a fabricated social media account that’s running on autopilot.

Confirmation bias: The tendency to favor or interpret information in a way that confirms what we already believe.

Content farm: A website that creates low-quality content aimed at improving its search engine rankings.

Deepfake: A video that has been manipulated using artificial intelligence to make it appear as if a person said or did something they didn’t. Learn more about deepfakes here.

Disinformation: Misleading or false information that’s created deliberately and spread strategically to deceive. It can be used to describe government propaganda.

Meme: According to Merriam-Webster, “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” On social media, memes tend to be funny and/or captioned pictures, like this popular one of a baby’s face, or a grinning Willy Wonka. In the context of disinformation, they may be used to mislead or spread false information in a humorous or culturally-relevant way. But they can also become a problem when people believe what they’re seeing in a meme to be true.

Misinformation: Misleading or false information spread unwittingly or unintentionally.

Post-truth: Refers to a situation in which emotions and beliefs shape public opinion rather than facts.

Reverse Image Search: Refers to using Google or other tools to find out if a picture has been doctored or is being used out of context.

Troll: An online persona or account — sometimes fabricated — that intentionally starts arguments on social media platforms or in internet chat rooms.