2.1 Don’t take me for a fool (Intro)

Just Digital Part 1: Big Issues in Small Bytes 2.1 Don't take me for a fool (Intro)


When it comes to your online life, is what you see what you really get?

Perhaps you have already heard of fake news, disinformation, and generative artificial intelligence (AI). Or maybe you’ve already been fooled or been a victim of misleading information. Fake news, you say? Not me. I’m no fool. I read trusted news sources. I never share anything online without reading it first.

But the reality is that digital trickery is all around us. With the improvement of generative AI and other digital technologies, misleading content is only going to get harder to spot.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help. In this session you will learn about different kinds of misleading content, become better at spotting it, and learn about some ways you can protect yourself and those around you.

Ready? Feeling confident? Let’s go!


Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, generative AI, trustworthy sources.


After this session you will be able to:

  • Understand the difference between fake news, misinformation, and disinformation.
  • Describe how to identify misleading information online.
  • Take steps to stop digital deception and protect yourself online.

Key Terms

Fake News

While social media has ignited an era of fake news, false information bundled up like real news is in fact as old as the Knights Templar. Seriously! Way back in the 14th century, trumped up indiscrections and wicked acts were widely published leading to a papal order dissolving the Templars within a few years.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that fake news is everywhere online. Sometimes it’s really outrageous, and sometimes it’s just plausible enough to fool even the most skeptical web users. So what exactly is fake news?

The University of Oregon (an American public research university) guide on fake news says:

Fake news is information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news . . . Fake news refers to a specific piece of information; it does not refer to any particular type of news outlet, individual, or other actor.

Recap: Fake news is false and misleading information designed to look like trustworthy, real news.

Example: In 2016, a Syrian NGO involved in search-and-rescue efforts were labelled “terrorists” by fake news websites. Fact checking website, Snopes, found no evidence of this.


We all know social media is FULL of wilfully ignorant people who really should know better. But not you, you know your stuff, right? You’d never fuel a conspiracy theory or share an article without reading it. You’re an upstanding netizen.

As for everyone else, well they need to learn about misinformation and how it can be harmful to the people around them. So what exactly is it?

The City University of New York (the largest urban university system in the United States) says, “Misinformation is the sharing of inaccurate and misleading information in an unintentional way.

Two things are important about this definition. One, it’s not misinformation until it is shared. This means you have the power to stop misinformation in its tracks. Two, this sharing is done in a benign way. People don’t intend to spread false and misleading information. They have good intentions at heart.

Recap: Misinformation false and misleading information shared without knowing that it is wrong or harmful.

Example: People often share posts on Facebook saying that they will be soon charged to used the service and urging users to copy and share this information. This is incorrect, but usually shared in good-faith.


Disinformation is . . . wait! Didn’t we just talk about disinformation? Close, but not quite. That was misinformation. Disinformation, misinformation . . . what’s the difference? The distinction here is in the intention. While misinformation was shared accidentally or with good purposes in mind, disinformation is not so innocent.

According to the Federal Government of Germany, disinformation is “when its objective is to deliberately deceive or influence people and it is distributed in a targeted manner.”

Disinformation can include imposter content made to look like trustworthy sources, fabricated content, manipulated content that distorts original images or words, information taken out of context, extreme partisan viewpoints claiming neutrality, and state funded propaganda. So, yes, fake news is a type of disinformation.

Recap: Disinformation can be any kind of content created and shared with the goal of deceiving people.

Example: Early in the coronavirus pandemic, far-right politicians in Italy fuelled rumours that migrants arriving at Italian shores were driving the outbreak. Source Time. Time Magazine is an American news magazine owned by Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.

Generative AI

Recently, a special kind of artificial intellience called Generative AI has dominated headlines. This type of AI has huge consequences for our online experiences. Generative AI collects massive amounts of data, including images, videos, and sound from all over the web. People can then instruct the AI to create new content that is often indistinguishable from something a human would make.

Some generative AI content is wildly inventive, showcasing the creativity of the people using it. Some generative AI content is helpful, assisting people with tedious or difficult tasks. And, unfortunately, some generative AI is just plain harmful. This includes deep fake videos, the mass production of fake news, and the theft of intellectual property and data.

We promise you this course was designed by real humans, but it’ll soon be impossible tell where our work stops and the AI begins.

Recap: Generative AI is an subset of AI that can produce all kinds of content that strongly resembles that which is created by humans.

Example: The Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, better known as ChatGPT-4, uses large sets of language data to generate new texts according to user instructions.

Trustworthy Sourches

Safely and smartly navigating the web requires a keen critical eye. Not all search results are created equal.

What makes a source trustworthy? You should be able to find out more about the content creator and verify their expertise on a topic. Find out where their funding comes from and if the content is sponsored. Of course, sometimes sources need to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

Fact checking is your best friend. Even hard facts can be piece together to tell different stories or chosen to support one opinion over another. Always look for multiple sources and different perspectives on the same issue.

Things move fast on the web, so be sure to look when the information was published and if there have been any further developments. Trustworthy sources will often add a warning about the age of an article.

Trustworthy news outlets are typically bound to professional standards and codes of ethics. Take a look for these on their websites along with information on how the outlet handles errors and retractions.

Recap: Trusthworthy sources are transparent, verifiable, balanced, and up-to-date.

Example: AFP Fact Check is a department of the Agence France-Presse and researches claims circulating in news and social media around the world. AFP is the world’s oldest news agency and is committed to providing independent, impartial, and trustworthy news.


Feeling confident about the difference between misinformation and disinformation? Can you spot online deception a mile away? Great. Now it’s time to go a bit deeper and hear from a few experts in the matter. Click Complete Session to continue to content from our experts.