Why misinformation is dangerous, especially during disasters

A person uses their cell phoneWith more access to information than ever before, misinformation is a big topic these days. Sometimes misinformation can be small and pretty harmless, other times it can lead to incredibly serious consequences. For the Red Cross and Red Crescent, misinformation can make it harder for us to deliver aid, and harder for people to receive the help they need. So, what do me mean when we talk about misinformation and what can be done to recognize it and stop it from spreading?

What is misinformation?

Misinformation, is information that is inaccurate. It can be something like repeating a rumour or publishing an article the author knows is false. Sometimes misinformation can be information that was at one point accurate but is now out of date. Another form of misinformation is when something real is manipulated, taken out of context or misrepresented, such as showing a picture of flooding where someone has altered the image to include sharks or a video of a forest fire from years ago that is represented as fire that is active.

Disinformation is information that is false information that is being shared to intentionally mislead people. An example of disinformation would be propaganda that is designed to impact people’s views.
Misinformation and disinformation can be incredibly dangerous, and it can leave a lasting impact.

Why is it harmful?

A person looks at information on their computerIt’s important recognize that not all misinformation is shared with bad intentions. It can be shared because someone is trying to help or sees something that they think people should be aware of (without first confirming it’s real).

Misinformation can be very convincing, especially when it speaks to our own existing biases, experiences, and views. As artificial intelligence continues to improve, misinformation can be more believable than ever, with AI generated images, videos and content becoming more persuasive every day.

Regardless of the motivation behind spreading it though, misinformation is harmful. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was frequent misinformation shared that impacted peoples’ health. Things like misrepresented data, racist and xenophobic conspiracy theories, and outright false information spread quickly on social media.

Misinformation can mean people don’t access care or assistance and it can stand in the way of important work.  

How can we recognize it and stop it from spreading?

There are a few steps we can take to make sure something is accurate before we share it with friends, family, and on our social feeds.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this a trustworthy source? As more social platforms move into verifying accounts for a fee, be extra careful that the source is who they say they are. Some false articles can initially look like they are from a trustworthy news source, so check the URL to make sure it’s real.  
  • Tip: To confirm a social media account is correct and legitimate, head to the organization or person’s website, many will have their social media accounts linked from there.
  • Is it current? Older information can cause confusion and newer information may include some important updates. For example, during a disaster, we might see someone share an old address or old hours for a reception centre – this information used to be accurate, but now it could be considered misinformation.
  • Is this content creator trustworthy? We all have our own views and biases, and it can influence how we share information. Sometimes information is shared in a way that can further a larger problem like racism or sexism.

Misinformation is a problem, but it’s also something we can all help stop.


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