How to Find Misinformation Online

How to Find Misinformation Online


How to find problematic content online by monitoring your own newsfeeds, topics you're interested in, and known sources of mis-/disinformation.

There are three main strategies you can use to find misinformation spreading online:

  1. Monitor your own feeds: Scan your existing social media feeds (e.g., Facebook newsfeed, Twitter timeline, Instagram feed, TikTok For You Page, etc.).

  2. Monitor topics you're interested in: Brainstorm keywords related to a given topic. Search those keywords on various social media platforms.

  3. Monitor sources of misinformation: If you know of people/accounts who often spread misinformation, keep an eye on their pages over time.

What are we looking for?

Once you've identified a piece of misinformation, ask yourself three important questions:

  • Is the content recent? Take a look at when the content was posted. If it's more than 1-2 weeks old, it might not be as relevant as newer content.

  • Is the content relevant? Make sure the content you've found is related to the topic you're interested in and that the content is false, misleading, hateful, or otherwise problematic.

  • Does the content have reach? Take a look at the engagement on the post. If the post has very few likes/ comments/ shares/ views, it's less impactful than a post with thousands of engagements.

Not sure if you should submit the content to Junkipedia? Send it in anyways!

Monitor Your Newsfeed

Monitoring your own feeds for misinformation is easy. Open your favorite social media app/website and take a look at your existing feed to see if you can find any misinformation. If you find something, check out the profile of the person/account who shared it. If that person/account shares misinformation often, follow them.

Example: Monitoring Your Facebook Newsfeed

As I'm scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I see a post that I think contains anti-vaccine content. I watch the video and decide to submit it to Junkipedia.

I can also investigate further by clicking on the name of the page where the content was posted.

I review the page and see several additional posts that contain anti-vaccine content. I can submit all of these to Junkipedia -- and I'll keep an eye on this page to see if it continues sharing misinformation. You can use this same strategy on any platform: scan your newsfeed, submit misinformation you see. Follow those who spread misinformation often.

Topic Monitoring

Topic monitoring involves brainstorming keywords related to a subject we're interested in, and then searching those keywords across different platforms. Iterate and try out new keywords to see what new content and sources you can discover. The tips and strategies in the examples below can be used on any social media platform.

Tip: Be specific when brainstorming misinformation keywords. If we're looking for anti-vaccine content, a search term like "mark of the beast" or "medical freedom" may be more useful than a general term like "vaccines." General terms are more likely to surface healthy discussions (sharing news stories, general conversation, PSAs, etc.). Using specific terms -- terms that misinfo spreaders themselves use -- will help you find misinformation faster and more easily.

Example: Searching on Faceboook

Search for any keyword using Facebook's search bar.

Example: Searching on TikTok

Open TikTok and click on the "Discover" icon at the bottom of the screen. Begin typing your keyword. TikTok will suggest hashtags similar to your search term -- some you may not have thought of. In this example, there are several additional tags that are worth investigating: markofbeastvaccine, markofbeast666, markofthebeastsystem, etc. Click on any suggested hashtag to view all videos associated with it.

I start with "markofthebeast" and find a video spreading misinformation about mRNA vaccines. This video is captioned with several hashtags, including "nojab." I click on "nojab" to bring up all of the videos tagged "nojab." I find a video claiming travelers are refusing Covid-19 vaccines (the claim relies on missing context). This video is tagged with "novax." I click on that tag to bring up all videos tagged "novax" and find a video making a false claim about employers requiring Covid-19 vaccines. This video also uses the hashtag saynotovaccines, which I could also investigate further.

Though I started with just one hashtag to monitor (markofthebeast), I now have several: markofbeast666, markofbeast, markofthebeastsystem, nojab, novax, and saynotovaccines.

Source Monitoring

We can also identify sources who spread misinformation often and monitor them over time. We can identify one person/account that spreads misinformation often and then investigate further to find other, new misinfo spreaders we might not have known about before.

A little bit of investigating can help you use one known account to find other accounts that spread misinformation. Go to the profile page of a person who spreads misinforamtion. Look at the list of accounts they follow, and who follow them. Depending on the platform and the account's security settings, you may be able to see content the account has liked, photos they are tagged in, and who they respond to often. You can investigate all of these avenues to find additional sources of misinformation you can follow and monitor over time.

Example: Finding New Sources on YouTube

Tracy Beanz is a long-time QAnon influencer who often talks about the 2020 election, "the big lie," and other conspiracy theories. We know that she spreads misinformation, and we can use her account to find others who also spread misinformation.

Some YouTube channels will show a tab called "channels" that shows all of the YouTube channels an account follows. If you don't see this tab, or if it's empty, don't worry. Some channels elect not to display this information -- but it's always worth checking!

Look at each of the channels: Is the content recent, relevant, and getting reach? If so, this account is worth following.

Here's an example of one of the channels Tracy Beanz follows. This is a great account to follow: he's published many videos and uploads regularly, he's spreading misinformation about a topic I'm interested in (voting rights and "the big lie"), his videos have a few thousand views each. I'll continue monitoring this account.

Here's another example of a channel Tracy Beanz follows. However, I don't want to monitor this channel. Why? The channel has a large subscriber base, but doesn't seem to be uploading new videos (we can see the most recent video was uploaded 7 months ago). The content is conspiratorial, but not related to any specific topic I'm interested in. Lastly, these videos have low reach: only a few hundred views each. It doesn't seem like this account is active or has many viewers.

Example: Finding New Sources on Instagram

Similarly, we can start with one Instagram account that spreads misinfo and use it to find others. I searched "medical freedom" on Instagram, which pulled up the account @nursesformedicalfreedom, which shares anti-vaccine misinformation. They're only following 32 accounts, many of which share similar anti-vax content. For example, it looks like I'll definitely want to follow @virginiafreedomkeepers.

We can also look at an account's tagged photos to find new accounts. Just click the tagged photos icon and review the photos to see if any contain msinfo. If so, check out the account's profile page to see what else they're sharing. In this example, I'm able to look through @virginiafreedomkeeper's tagged photos to find a new anti-vaccine account to follow.

Example: Finding New Sources on TikTok

TikTok's main feed is called the "For You Page." TikTok will put videos on your FYP that come from accounts you follow, as well as videos the TikTok algorithm thinks you'll like. If you follow several accounts that spread misinformation, TikTok's algorithm will put other, similar videos on your FYP. You can create an entire FYP focused on surfacing misinformation to report. But first, you'll want to find and follow some misinfo spreaders.

I start with a hashtag that I know is used to spread misinformation about Covid-19 and the pandemic, #plandemia. I find a video that contains misinfo and look at the account's profile. This account shares misinfo about the pandemic often -- and it looks like she also has an Instagram account linked in her bio. I can add her to my monitoring on Instagram as well.

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