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Check the source, of course!

We all know that there is a lot of false information on social media. It’s up to us to be proactive and find out what’s true and what isn’t. How do we do that? By checking the source, of course!

While some false information doesn’t cause harm, much of it does. Some of the most harmful false information is used to promote extreme ideas that harm us, other people, and our society. This type of information can evoke strong emotional reactions and lead us to share it without first looking into the facts for ourselves.

  • Trusted sources. Rely on official websites and verified social media for information.
  • Emotional sharing. Avoid sharing based on gut reactions or emotional responses.

Spotting false information can be hard to do. Learn how to spot it and what you can do about it because stopping the spread of false information starts with you!

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What is False Information?

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All kinds of false information are spread through a variety of mediums, including mainstream media, social media, word of mouth, online forums, texts, and emails.


 Some of the most damaging false information spreads rapidly via shared posts when people may be unaware of the true source of a link or email.

Types of False Information

  • Misinformation is false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm.
  • Disinformation is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country.
  • Malinformation is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.

False or misleading information can evoke a strong emotional reaction that leads people to share it without first looking into the facts for themselves, polluting healthy conversations about the issues and causing division among us.

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What’s the Harm?

It’s important to understand how people use false information to shape online conversations and manipulate behavior. Once they have built an online presence, they start to post false or misleading content that steers their audience to more extreme positions and spreads to a larger audience.

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Causing Division in the United States

Content creators with harmful intentions use controversial issues to polarize Americans and push us into groups that reinforce a particular point of view, further spreading disinformation and preventing healthy conversations.

The rapid spread of false information can have extreme consequences including causing distrust of the media, and the democratic process or even promoting domestic violent extremism.

People with bad intentions can use false information to cause chaos, confusion, and division. Some use false information to interfere with and undermine the functions of our democratic government and the unity of the American people.

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What Can I Do About It?

Spotting false information can be hard to do. Here are some tips to help you recognize false information.

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Recognize the Risk

Understand how people use false information to shape the conversation and manipulate behavior. Once they’ve built an online presence, they start to post false or misleading content that steers their audience to more extreme positions and spreads to a bigger audience. Download factsheet.

Here's how they do it:

  • Build a Following. To attract followers, creators may start by posting entertaining, non-controversial content that appeals to their audience and builds trust.
  • Create a Divide. Controversial issues are used to polarize Americans and push us into groups that reinforce a particular point of view, further
    spreading false information and preventing healthy conversations.
  • Go Viral. False information is often disguised in funmemes that are  highly engaging and easy to share on social media, like captioned photos and GIFs.
  • Amplify Malicious Messaging. Coordinated campaigns spread false information across social media platforms, state-funded communication channels, and sometimes even official accounts to reach far beyond the content creator’s immediate followers.
  • Make it Mainstream. False information originally shared with a
    small audience can do big damage when it is amplified, sometimes gaining mainstream media coverage that may lend it furthercredibility  and a broader audience.
  • Affect Real-World Behavior. Bad actors use false information  sharedonline to affect our daily lives, like trying to influence how we vote, inciting physical confrontations, and disrupting healthy democratic discussions and participation. 

Question the Source

Check who is really behind the information and think about what they gain by making people believe it. False information is often designed to look authentic. Critically evaluate content to discern whether it’s trustworthy. Download factsheet.

  • Check the Author. Research the author’s credentials. What else have they published? Are they qualified to cover the topic? If the content doesn’t include an author’s name, it might be false information.
  • Check the Date. When was it published? Outdated content can lack important context, making it irrelevant to current events and misleading to someone reading it in the present.
  • Check the Message. What is the content really saying? False information often pushes a single viewpoint, takes an emotional tone, and uses attention-grabbing headlines that may not match the actual content. 
  • Check for Facts. Consider how the author supports their arguments and whether they address counterarguments. Opinions without evidence may not be accurate. Trustworthy fact-checking sites, including those listed here, can help evaluate claims.
  • Check the Sources. Credible content will cite supporting sources and provide additional resources for more information. Click on source links to make sure they work and support the content.
  • Check the Quality. False information is often hosted on low quality websites. Look for signs, such as many ads; questionable sponsors; poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation; and suspicious URLs that mimic legitimate news sites.

Investigate the Issue

Search reliable sources to see what they are saying about the issue. A thorough search will help make sure you that you are sharing accurate information. Don’t share content if it isn’t from a credible source or you can’t find another credible source to confirm the content. Download factsheet.

Start by asking yourself the following questions. 

  • Is the Source Credible? Look at the site’s “About” page to see whether it includes detailed information, such as its values, ownership, location, funding, and contact information.
  • What are Other Sources Saying? Search the issue on trustworthy sites. If the facts reported by credible sources don’t align with the content you’re reviewing, don’t share it.
  • What are Fact Checkers Saying? It’s easy to believe things that confirm our personal views. If a claim seems too good to be true, see whether a trustworthy fact-checking source has evaluated it and provided additional context. 
  • Is Your Investigation Neutral? Make sure you are using unbiased search language and remain open-minded to evidence that might contradict your beliefs.
  • Does the Source Acknowledge Other Perspectives? Most hot-button issues are complicated. Although all authors have their own viewpoint, credible sources will recognize other perspectives and provide factual context around the issue. Bad actors won’t.
  • Does the Content Provoke a Strong Reaction? If the content makes you feel shocked, angry, or sad, consider that its purpose may be to get you to respond emotionally and share it without confirming its accuracy.

Think Before You Link

Take a moment to let your emotions cool and ask yourself whether your feelings about the content are based on fact. False information is designed to evoke a strong emotional reaction that bypasses your critical thinking. You can interrupt the cycle of false information by taking time to research the content and reflect on whether sharing it would benefit the conversation. Download factsheet.

  • Know the Risk. Sharing something you see online may seem harmless in the moment, but spreading false information can damage our ability to have meaningful conversations.
  • Know the Content. Headlines and captions are often exaggerated to get an emotional response. Take time to read the entire post to determine whether they accurately reflect the content.
  • Know the Facts. Investigate the issue being discussed. Check with trustworthy sources and fact checkers to verify the claims and make sure they have not been taken out of context.
  • Know the Source. Question who is really behind the content. Critically evaluate the credibility of the author and the legitimacy of the outlet by checking for facts, sources supporting the claims and the quality of the site.
  • Know Why You’re Seeing It. Social media algorithms promote content they think you will engage with, sometimes through specific targeting. If you receive a link from a friend, make sure you trust the original source as much as the person who sent it to you.
  • Know Yourself. Ask yourself why you are sharing the content. People often share information that confirms their beliefs, even if it is untrue. If you wouldn’t share it in person, don’t share it online

Talk with Your Circle

Talk with your social circle about the risks of false information & how to respond when you see it. It’s probably not worth engaging with every piece of false information but speaking up can help stop the spread. Do your research and share what you know with friends and family. Download factsheet.

  • Come Prepared. Make sure you’ve done your homework and know the facts before starting a conversation. Even if you’re sure the information is false, brush up on the latest evidence to be safe.
  • Decide if It’s Worth It. Once you have the facts, evaluate whether it’s worth weighing in. Will your response help the conversation or cause conflict?
  • Respond Politely. If you decide to respond, try doing so via direct message or through an offline conversation. Public comments can give false information greater visibility and make discussions more confrontational.
  • Focus on the Facts. If you do respond publicly, lead with the truth and don’t repeat the false claim. Provide links to neutral, credible sources with more information about the issue.
  • Be Respectful. Try to under the beliefs of the other person so you will be heard in return. It can be hard to change attitudes, but stay calm, positive and empathetic to get your message across.
  • Be a Resource. Stopping false information when you see it is important, but you can help friends and family build resilience to false information by proactively sharing resources and tips for doing their own fact-checking.
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Resources + Tools

You can do your part to stop the spread of false information by learning more about how false information is spread.

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Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Resource Library – CISA provides a resource library to help understand the threat of false information and tools to mitigate risks.

Tools to Verify Your News

Fact Checking Sites

  • – Annenberg Public Policy Center’s nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
  • SciCheck – Focuses exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.
  • All Sides – Provides multiple angles on the same story.

Image Checking Sites

Web History Checking Site

  • Wayback Machine – Web archive that captures websites over time and can be used to verify content history and edits.



About Check the Source, of Course!

Check the Source, of Course! is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Grant Program.

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