Explore the phenomenon: Misinformation

cock-up, mistake, supposition, rumour, bias, botch-up, misunderstanding, belief, gossip…


The truthfulness and motives of the information distributor are described using three concepts:

  • Misinformation refers to wrong, incomplete or strongly biased information, which the distributor considers correct. A person who disseminates misinformation does not do so in order to mislead anyone. Misinformation is often shared due to lack of knowledge or sometimes inadvertently.
  • Disinformation refers to consciously disseminated wrong information and malevolent lying.
  • Malinformation refers to the spreading of truthful information with malevolent intent.

Misinformation is a more common and serious problem than intentional lying (i.e. disinformation). On the internet, disinformation turns into misinformation when people share information that was created with malicious intent without reflecting or checking its veracity.

Misinformation is a problem that social media and the human mind have to cope with

On social media, misinformation spreads six times faster than genuine information. This is because false claims are surprising and therefore have emotional appeal. The architecture of social media accelerates the spreading of unreliable knowledge and rumours since algorithms highlight sensational and appealing content. Correcting false information is difficult since publishing a correction in various networks does not reach all those who saw the original message and even if it does, people tend to remember the original, wrong information better.

The human mind is highly susceptible to misinformation. People make mistakes and also misremember things, particularly when they are in a hurry. Cognitive biases which guide our thinking make people selective about the types of content they trust and strengthen their prejudices and world view. Social media is quick to give us an illusion of superiority: finding information is so easy that people overestimate their own ability to evaluate its reliability. People are also lazy thinkers – they do not bother to check or reflect on what they read. In addition, people have a strong need to belong to a group. Some people on social media share content that they know will appeal to their own reference group without paying attention to the veracity of the information.

Combatting misinformation requires good media literacy, self-knowledge and emotional skills

Wrong information may always have serious consequences. For example, false rumours on social media have sparked numerous persecutions and acts of violence targeted at ethnic groups. Due to misinformation related to health care, many people have refused to get vaccinated. Misinformation exacerbates conflicts between people, destabilises society and weakens people’s trust in news media, politicians and authorities.

Combatting false information is the responsibility of every media user. It requires diverse competences related to critical media literacy. In addition to teaching news literacy, technological literacy and knowledge of the principles of attention economy of social media, students need be taught the ability to understand how people think and how they themselves react as social media users. Since misinformation is designed to target people’s emotions, possessing self-reflective emotional skills is crucial. On social media, combatting misinformation requires self-discipline – the critical questioning of one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Text: Elina Tolonen, Tampere University

Image: Siru Tirronen

The media landscape of children and young people keeps changing, with new phenomena following each other back-to-back. Providing pupils with tools for understanding and processing these phenomena is important. This learning package is part of Pathways to New Media Phenomena – Information and Exercise Materials Series. The series includes information and exercises for the teacher and the pupils. You can explore new phenomena in a meaningful way with the help of the How to discuss new media literacy phenomena through pedagogical means method. 

CC BY 4.0

Material for the teacher

Video on misinformation
Support for the pupils’ exercises
Approach to processing new media literacy phenomena in teaching
Competence descriptions as a support for goal-oriented teaching
Materials for media education

Material for the pupil

What is misinformation? Information for the pupil
Dolphin video as misinformation – reflection exercise for the group
The warning triangles of misinformation – individual exercise
Examine the picture
Explore the phenomenon: Misinformation