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A Toolkit for Detecting Disinformation

Disinformation operations are pervasive and ongoing in many places around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has sadly provided an ongoing agenda for individuals, groups as well as state and non-state actors to engage in the deliberate creation and dissemination of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead. The aim of disinformation operations is to generate influence in a bid to shape people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, and outcomes to include causing harm for political, personal, or financial gain.

Many academic institutions such as the Harvard Kennedy School, the Stanford Internet Observatory, or the Oxford Internet Institute have ongoing research projects to track disinformation campaigns. Their studies typically focus on the dominant state actors, i.e. China, Russia and Iran, and to a lessor extent on non-state actors such as violent extremist organizations. Within the context of COVID-19, there are three overarching narratives deployed by state actors engaged in disinformation operations:

  1. Criticizing Western democracies in an attempt to undermine trust in public institutions and create chaos;

  2. Praising home countries in terms of how leaders have successfully responded to the coronavirus outbreak in their respective countries. This includes highlighting their country’s leadership role in promoting international cooperation and facilitating global recovery from the public health emergency; and

  3. Promoting conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19. This includes pushback that coronavirus originated in China and conspiracies that coronavirus is a bioweapon manufactured by the United States.

The online environment and social media provide ample and fertile ground for the spread of disinformation though a simple framework can be used to curtail and counter the impact of disinformation campaigns.

Disinformation Toolkit

Below are several resources, grouped by category, which can aid with recognizing disinformation, misinformation and fake news:

  1. Bot/spam Detection: Tools such as Hoaxy, Botometer and Bot Sentinel identify automated accounts on social media.

  2. Disinformation Tracking: Crowdtangle is a public insights tool from Facebook that makes it easy to follow, analyze, and report on what’s happening with public content on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit. It has COVID-19 Live Displays for many countries around the world though not for Kenya. The Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard tracks and/or studies the flow of disinformation and the dashboard has filters by e.g. account type and country. BotSlayer is an application that helps to track and detect potential manipulation of information spreading on Twitter. Iffy Quotient is a web-based tool that uses NewsWhip to query Facebook and Twitter and identify URLs that are known to be biased or to be frequent reporters of false information.

  3. Credibility Scoring: The Global Disinformation Index is a web-based tool that rates news outlets based on the “probability of disinformation on a specific media outlet.” KnowNews is a browser extension developed through the Media Monitoring Africa Initiative that classifies news sites based on their credibility. Sites are rated as credible, dodgy, or not rated. Trusted Times is a browser extension that classifies fake news and unreliable of content. It uses machine learning to provide additional information about articles, including bias and details about who is covered positively and negatively.

  4. Verification: is a website affiliated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that performs fact checking. CaptainFact is a web-based collection of tools designed for collaborative verification of Internet content. Exifdata is an online application that lets you take a deeper look at your favorite images.


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