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Research Essentials

A General Guide to Research: how to research, where to look for sources, how to evaluate work, and where to get research help in the Iona University Libraries.


If you spend any time on social media or on the Internet, you know that sometimes sources find you. Without doing any work, you will occasionally be barraged with stories or articles, either promoted by the site’s algorithm or by one of the accounts you follow. Even when you just want to check up on friends, the algorithm wants you to engage with the social media discourse of the hour. This is partly due to how social media companies make money, promoting articles or posts that they assume will keep you on the platform to learn more about your behavior as a consumer.

This constant barrage of information creates an environment where misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation thrive. Even the most vigilant social media and online users can be swayed by this disordered information; there is always some new story or controversy that would take up all of our time investigating. When researching – for a paper, for a hobby, or as a lifelong learner – it's important to learn to differentiate between misinformation, malinformation, and disinformation.

Tools and Library Resources for Evaluating Information

Fact Checking Sites

  • - Annenberg Public Policy Center’s nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
  • Politifact - PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida.
  • SciCheck - Focuses exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.
  • All Sides - Provides multiple angles on the same story.

Image Checking Sites

Web History Checking Site

  • Wayback Machine - Web archive that captures websites over time and can be used to verify content history and edits.

What is Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation?

When looking at information on the internet, think over the information you read. Is it objectively false? Who benefits from this narrative being spread? Who could be harmed by this narrative? Even if it’s convenient to believe something you read understand that many people derive monetary benefit from your attention. Remain curious and critical, and use the chart below to understand the kinds of disordered information floating around the internet.

Two circles labelled Falseness and Intent to Harm overlap. In the Falseness circle is misinformation; the intent to harm circle has Malinformation. Disinformation sits in the overlap of falseness and intent to harm.

Image Credit: First Draft News “Understanding Information Disorder,”

  • Misinformation: Misinformation can be as innocuous as posting incorrect information. It’s typically a user error, benefiting no one and detached from a larger political or economic project. It could be someone posting “2 + 2 = 5”; it is false but has no clear intent to harm any person or group.

  • Disinformation: Disinformation is both intentionally false and meant to cause harm. It is often motivated by the desire to make money, have greater political influence, or sow chaos for chaos’s sake. The rumor that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy for the Soviets is one historical example of disinformation, intended to heighten tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We are constantly swimming in disinformation on the internet because people can monetize our anger, fear, and support. Reflect on your capacity to confirm, refute, or believe the information you encounter on the internet before engaging, and certainly before citing the source in your research paper.

  • Malinformation: Malinformation is true, but the sharing of it is meant to cause harm. Harm is derived from either the true statement being shared out of context or at a particularly vulnerable point for the malinformation target. A post about unseating the British monarchy because of the offshore investments revealed in the 2017 Paradise Papers would be malinformation. While the Paradise Papers revealed that many members of the British monarchy had tax-evasive offshore investments, the post is intended to harm the British monarchy, not to inform people about tax malfeasance.

As the chart shows, these categories are fluid. Disinformation can become misinformation if something is proven wrong, but people keep posting. Malinformation can become disinformation with enough social media virality, shifting the initial narrative.

Kinds of Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation

Rather than lumping varied content together and calling it “fake news,” it’s important to understand the varied kinds of mis-, dis-, and malinformation.

Description of 7 kinds of misinformation and disinformation from a scale of low to high impact.

Image Credit: First Draft News “Understanding Information Disorder,”

  1. Satire and Parody: Satire and parody are funny because of the touch of truth. It braids strands of truth with comedic elements, allowing us to laugh at some unpalatable aspects of life. Satire and Parody become misinformation when people share articles from The Onion or Babylon Bee and express their outrage at a fake situation. Satire and Parody can become disinformation when these narratives get co-opted by larger political actors that hide behind parody to push a certain agenda.

  1. False Connections: False connections are most visible in clickbait headlines. A story might be titled “UFO SPOTTED over New Rochelle: Residents SHOCKED by UFO TRUTHS” while the article is about an oddly shaped balloon. Clickbait sites make money off clicks, and often less internet-savvy users click on sponsored content posts, generating quick revenue for the website. Clickbait titles are not in and of themselves dangerous but contribute to information overload that can overshadow consequential news stories.

  1. Misleading Content: Content is often misleading when the framing of a situation is skewed. Rather than sharing information to help people make up their own minds, misleading content often pretends to be objective while arguing a particular point of view.

  1. False Context: False context information might reflect a real situation but is purposely evading some context around the information. This is most often evident in image captions, or entire articles reducing a complex situation to an image. Images are easy to manipulate and infinitely interpretable; be wary of articles hinging on a particular interpretation of a photo.

  1. Imposter Content: Imposter content is meant to look like a real news source but manipulates the content of the source. This includes sites like, which is meant to look like the ABC News site but contains false or manipulated stories.

  1. Manipulated Content: Manipulated content includes an array of fakes, ranging from photoshopped images to deep fakes. While the image may be real, the image presented was never actually taken but created.

  1. Fabricated Content: These stories are false.

Tactics for disseminating misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation information shift rapidly and occasionally outpace current evaluative tools. Develop a critical eye when reading internet stories and you will be less likely to share and believe mis-, dis-, and malinformation.