Disinformation actors use a variety of tools to influence their victims, stir them to action, and create consequences. CISA created this fact sheet to illustrate deepfakes, forgeries, proxy sites, and other tools of disinformation actors.
Knowing these techniques can increase preparedness and promote resilience when faced with disinformation.
Misinformation misleads. It is false information that is communicated and spread,regardless of intent to deceive.
Malinformation sabotages. It is factual information that is taken out of context and presented to cause harm.
Disinformation deceives. It is false information that is intentionally crafted and spread to deceive.
Examples of Inauthentic Content
Audio/video content goes viral because it grabs the attention of the audience and is repeatedly shared. But what if this content is a cheapfake or deepfake? Manipulated audio/video content is dangerously effective at spreading false information.
Cheapfakes are real audio clips and videos that have been sped up, slowed down, or shown out of context to mislead.
Deepfakes are fake, but very believable, audio clips and videos, crafted and spread to deceive. They can convince you that people have said or done things that did not happen. Visual deepfakes can generate fake-but-plausible faces or full-body video. An audio deepfake can be a voice clone that produces new sentences from one person or multiple people on its own or with a fake video.
The quality of manipulated audio/video varies. Some fakes are detectable on closer examination, while uncovering others will require special software.
On its own, this content can be convincing. Check with multiple sources to confirm its authenticity.
Forged artifacts typically feature fake letterheads, copied and pasted signatures, made-up social media posts, and maliciously edited emails. Such forgeries are made and distributed for various malign purposes. To make them more credible, forgeries are often presented as obtained from a hack, theft or other interception of documents—they purport to be “leaked” materials.
Stay vigilant. Forgeries can be packaged with authentic content to lend it credibility. If the forgery appears to be groundbreaking news, check reputable news sites to see if they are covering the event.
Proxy websites are fronts for malicious actors, designed to launder their disinformation and divisive content or use that content to drive website visits. These sites are not developed to provide authentic information.
Following high-visibility events, these sites will crop up to take advantage of the public’s legitimate desire for information. Be cautious of sites that have unclear origins. Both the information and its sources should be trustworthy.
Clues like misspellings in a URL can indicate before even visiting a website that it may not be a trustworthy source.
Understand how foreign actors try to affect behavior.
Foreign actors might build an audience by starting or joining groups and spreading entertaining, non-controversial content. Eventually, they sprinkle in disinformation and steer followers to more extreme positions. The same actor will do this in many groups and pit them against each other.
Identify a divisive issue.
Adversaries are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to inflame hot button issues in the United States.
Build a following.
Adversaries will often begin by sharing non-controversial content to fit in and gain trust. Once they have a large audience, they share more extreme and divisive messages.
Amplify and distort.
Disinformation is amplified over social media platforms, state-funded television stations, and radio channels. Adversary foreign officials even use false or misleading public statements to provide disinformation a credible disguise and inject false narratives into the mainstream media.
Make it mainstream.
The goal of adversaries is to get divisive issues covered in mainstream media so that their controversial views gain legitimacy.
Take it to the real world.
In the past, adversaries have organized or funded protests to further stoke divisions among Americans. The goal is to take what started online to the streets where Americans are shouting down other Americans.
Check who produced the content and question their intent.
Foreign actors can spend a lot of money to make disinformation seem like entertainment or news. U.S. laws require such agents engaged in political activities to disclose their relation to foreign governments. Look for those disclosures and think about what slant that relationship might put on how they report before accepting it as truth or linking to it online.
Check the author.
Check to see that the author is clearly identified. Do a search on them. Are they real? What are their qualifications for covering the topic? Be cautious of news that doesn’t share who is reporting it.
Check the date.
Look for a publishing date and see if it is current. Outdated articles can be misleading and irrelevant to current events.
Check for a match.
Read past the headline and see if the content matches. Be cautious of over-the-top headlines crafted to make you feel strong emotions.
Check for facts.
Consider how the author presents the information. Is the content made up of facts or opinions? Are the arguments clear and supported by evidence? Do they address counter-arguments?
Check their sources.
A credible website will cite their supporting sources and provide additional resources for greater understanding. Click them to make sure they work.
Check the sponsors.
Quality sponsors often do their homework, and don’t sponsor questionable sites just for clicks. A way to judge authenticity of a site is by seeing who chooses to sponsor them.
Search for other reliable sources before sharing.
Do a quick search for other reliable sources before sharing a controversial or emotionally charged article, post, tweet, or meme you read. Studies show that being well informed requires getting information from many places. If it isn’t from a credible source or if you can’t find a second reliable source, don’t share it.
What is the source?
Take a second to investigate the site’s “About” page to determine its goals and approach. You can also check for legitimate contact information.
Does it match other outlets?
Search for other legitimate sites covering the issue. Do the facts from the other sides line up?
Are the sources reliable?
Click on the sources to determine if they support the story and are legitimate.
Is the author credible?
Do a quick search on the author to see if they are credible.
Did the content push your buttons?
Did the content make you angry or push other emotional buttons? If so, consider the purpose of the post may have been to get you to respond emotionally before checking to see if the content was even true.
Ask yourself why you’re sharing—and let your emotions cool.
Take a moment before sharing a link, email, or other message. Disinformation is designed to make you feel angry, shocked, or smug – always ask yourself why you’re sharing first. Are you posting to improve the conversation? Taking no action can be the best way to improve a discussion and thwart disinformation.
Know the content.
Beyond the headline or caption, what is the underlying message? Make sure you know if the content you are sharing is a fact, an opinion, out of context, or a lie. Verify the information by checking it against trusted news outlets or primary sources.
Know the source.
Foreign adversaries create fake websites that produce lots of content in little time, and fake accounts to share the content and make it appear popular and legitimate. Before you amplify a false message by sharing it with your followers, find out where the initial information comes from.
Know the reason.
Content can appear in your feed for many reasons. Before you share content, understand if you have been specifically targeted to see the information, and if so, ask why. If it was shared by a friend, make sure you trust the original source as much as the friend.
Adversaries create content that feels true on an emotional level. This causes people to share content even when they know it to be hateful or untrue. Ask yourself why you are sharing something. Consider using your own words rather than forwarding potential disinformation. Do not let yourself be emotionally manipulated.
Talk with your social circle about the risks of spreading disinformation.
It’s probably not worth engaging with every piece of disinformation, but if you are concerned with its spread you may want to speak out. Share what you know about the risks of spreading disinformation and how you handle it. Confronting with emotion may backfire, so when possible, combine humor with facts.
Make sure you’ve done your homework and have the facts. Even if you're sure you're right, brush up on the latest evidence before having the conversation.
Decide if it’s worth it.
Once you have the facts, decide if the post is even worth weighing in on. Will your response help the conversation or cause more conflict?
If you decide to respond, try to take the conversation into a private space or even offline. Discussions held in comment sections or publicly on social media can become dramatic when there’s an audience. A more private setting could lead to a more constructive conversation.
Focus on the facts.
If you do respond publicly, replace false information with a correct statement. For example, if someone says the “sky is green,” rather than saying “the sky is not green,” say “the sky is blue.” Repeating a false claim, even when debunking it, only amplifies it.
Share your knowledge.
Share what you know about the risks of spreading disinformation and how you handle it.
Listen to others.
Make sure the person you’re speaking with feels heard and understood. This will increase the likelihood that you will be heard in return. Try to uncover why they are sharing a particular piece of misinformation. How does it support their views and beliefs?