Porismita Borah, a professor at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, researches the spread of misinformation on digital platforms. While rumors, conspiracies, and falsehoods abound online, Borah says corrections and content warnings are effective ways to slow the spread of misinformation.

She talked to Washington State Magazine about why we are susceptible to false information and how we can be more astute about spotting misinformation.

Porismita Borah
Porismita Borah (Courtesy Edward R. Murrow College of Communication)


Q: We frequently hear these two terms—misinformation and disinformation. What do they mean?

A: Both are false, but misinformation can be shared without the person knowing that it is incorrect. Disinformation is far more dangerous because someone is knowingly spreading false information for strategic purposes—whether that’s to manipulate, gain followers, or go viral.

Q: Why are we so susceptible to false information online?

A: Sometimes it’s a matter of uncertainty, which we saw during the Covid pandemic. No one really knew what was going on. Another reason could be ideology. Sometimes people have made up their minds on certain topics because of their political beliefs.

When some of these false narratives connect to our core beliefs, it gets really complicated. Even if we see information that is correct, it can be difficult for us to take in that information and adjust our beliefs, our attitudes, and our behaviors.

Q: How can we be more savvy consumers of information?

A: We definitely can make ourselves less vulnerable to misinformation. If we start with the individual, I would stress the importance of keeping ourselves informed through multiple sources and credible sources. Reflective judgement is important as well. My research shows that people who reflect on what they read are less likely to hold misperceptions or spread misinformation.

Media literacy is another helpful strategy, but the field needs to catch up. We’ve been trying to teach kids to understand how the media works and to check their sources. But now, one has to be literate about social media, the digital world, and artificial intelligence, too. If you aren’t AI literate, you could be more vulnerable to manipulated images and content.

Big tech and government also have roles to play in reducing the spread of misinformation. No one can do this all by themselves.

Q: How could Big Tech step up its game?

A: After the 2016 presidential election, Facebook acknowledged that misleading ads linked to a Russian internet agency had millions of views. The platform started featuring “inoculation” messaging. Even before you read a misleading post, you were warned, “This may contain erroneous information. So, check out these three other stories.” Inoculation messaging has been experimentally tested, and people who are exposed to it report less misperceptions.

But lately—and very, very unfortunately—this sort of technique has been set aside by social platforms. Elon Musk has been vague about correcting misinformation on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter. And Facebook seems to be following that trend, although Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t openly made any comments.

But even as individuals, we can still deploy a corrective messaging strategy. If your friend’s Facebook post contains information you know is not true, you might say, “Read this story from Snopes.com or another fact checking site.” Research shows that when people see a correction, their misperceptions go down.

Q: How do people react to being corrected?

A: People who are scrolling through the post, and not the ones being corrected, tend to take it better. They’re the ones most likely to report fewer misperceptions after the corrective messaging.

Personality also plays a role here. Some people will say, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you pointed out my mistake. I want to read more on this topic,” but not everyone is open to being corrected.

If you’re humble, if you lean toward reflecting on what you read and hear, if you are open-minded, you’ll be more open to corrections.


Read more about research on misinformation by Borah and others in “Don’t read all about it.”