Faces of Misinformation

While social media is responsible for the amplification of misinformation, where did the content first originate – who is user zero?

We’ve broken down the different faces behind social media’s Misinformation Pandemic.


The Sneaky Scammer

Motto:
“If you can’t make a buck out of a crisis then you’re doing something wrong“

M.O.:
The sneaky scammer tries anything to profit from a crisis and may present themselves as an entrepreneur or health professional. Their go-to M.O. is to tap into your fear to sell you solutions – such as miracle remedies or equipment like special face masks. They might use ad platforms to drive you to their products or can also be found posting in community groups.

Motive:
Parting you from your hard earned money

How they want you to feel:
Prepared and reassured in an uncertain world

How to spot them:
Using lines like “you won’t find this in stores” or “the secret remedy the the government / doctors / the media aren’t telling you about” with numbers to call or website links


The Conspiracy Theorist

Motto:
“Don’t trust anybody – especially the government. There is always something bigger at play.”

M.O.:
The Conspiracy Theorist is suspicious of authority. They believe the truth is being withheld, so tend to hang out in forums with likeminded people, gathering questionable evidence to confirm their conspiracy. They move from the fringes to the mainstream in times of crisis, when the general public is looking for answers. You might see them post a subversive meme, or links to news sites you’ve never heard of.

Motive:
Doubtful of the reality you’re being presented with. Questioning everything.

How they want you to feel:
Prepared and reassured in an uncertain world

How to spot them:
Using questions to frame their argument like “Can anyone explain how is that possible?” or “Surely that is more realistic than eating a bat?” while pointing the finger at government officials and mainstream media.


The Know-it-all Gossip

Motto:
“It would be selfish of me to keep this information all to myself, wouldn’t it?”

M.O.:
This is just an average person. Though perhaps a touch more gullible than average and likely a sticky beak / gossip in real life. They’re posting information that they believe to be true (or at least likely) and might mix good information with bad, or edit small details to make it more palatable to their networks. They’re likely to broadcast their ‘breaking news’ to entire social networks.

Motive:
Feeling ahead of the game and being the first to break the news.

How they want you to feel:
While occasionally their intentions may be wholesome, often they want you to see them as superior, ‘in-the-know’ or virtuous for posting helpful information.

How to spot them:
Posting breaking news style public service announcements like ‘let this sink in’ or ‘I just heard / saw / experienced…’ with lots of !!!!. If they’re also trying to influence your behaviour they might end with ‘and that’s we we should all stay inside’ etc.


The Ideological Warrior

Motto:
“Perfect – yet another crisis to twist to our advantage and drive our own narrative.”

M.O.:
The Ideological Warrior twists events to suit their ideological intent, often piggybacking on existing conspiracy theories to capture attention and drive their own narrative. They may rope in ‘The Conspiracy Theorist’ to help spread misinformation and seed their own agenda – be it anti-US or anti-vaccination etc. Unlike conspiracy theorists, they don’t actually buy into the conspiracy, they use it to advance their cause. Often operating behind the scenes, creating false news content and seeding it via. fake accounts and bots.

Motive:
Convincing the masses their world view is legitimate.

How they want you to feel:
Fear, confusion and distrust in their opponent.

How to spot them:
Insinuating their opponent is in the wrong “‘The US sends troops to a secret bunker” or “Bill Gates makes money through vaccines.”


The Trouble Maker / Hacker

Motto:
“Are you ready to watch the world burn?”

M.O.:
The trouble maker is a rogue agent.Their reason for spreading misinformation is not always clear. There isn’t necessarily anyone benefiting from this particular misinformation being believed, but there is usually collateral damage. Their go-to is often to provoke or confuse you into taking actions that are against your own and the public’s interest.

Motive:
Varied – they might want to sow panic, they might want to prove that they can seed a rumour that gets picked up by mainstream media.

How they want you to feel:
They want you to believe, share and engage with their post.

How to spot them:
While you might not spot the originator, these posts can include a call to action at the end such as; ‘copy and paste to as many people you know’ or ‘share this with your friends!’