What is fake news: Understanding information disorder

Misinformation is rampant online, but how can journalists and the public identify and understand it? Experts recommend using precise terms like propaganda and lies rather than the vague “fake news,” categorizing types between disinformation, misinformation and malinformation, and being aware of techniques from clickbait to deepfakes. A guide from First Draft News breaks down best practices around terminology, classification, and vigilance against both outside disinformation efforts and internal editorial sloppiness. With complex factors at play, precision with language matters. Defining the specifics of information disorder helps journalists explain the issues at stake and effectively counter falsehoods.

  • Use specific terms like propaganda, lies, conspiracies, rumors, etc. rather than the vague “fake news” which has become meaningless.
  • Categorize types of misinformation as disinformation (intentionally false), misinformation (false but not intended to harm), and malinformation (genuine info shared to cause harm).
  • Be aware of various techniques like satire, clickbait, false context, imposter content, manipulated media, and fabricated content.
  • Satire when taken out of context can spread misinfo. Clickbait erodes trust. Genuine content can be reframed deceptively. Logos are used to give credibility. Images and videos can be altered. Wholly fabricated content spreads falsehoods.
  • Deepfakes using AI will be a growing challenge. News organizations should maintain high standards and not contribute to information pollution.
  • Definitions, categorization and using specific terms matters. Information disorder is complex with many elements so be as precise as possible when identifying and explaining different types.
  • For journalism students covering this topic, focusing on best practices around terminology, categorization, specific techniques used, and maintaining high editorial standards will help them explain it clearly.

Text generated by Claude.AI for class experiment.

Lineker-BBC row: survey shows how different outlets approach their staff’s social media presence

Kelly Fincham, University of Galway

The row over Gary Lineker’s tweet criticising the UK government’s proposed asylum legislation has re-ignited the debate about impartiality in journalism and the way news organisations deal with social media.

The BBC now looks set to review its social media policies again (it last did this in 2020). This decision is in line with a wider international media effort. In 2022, the UK Guardian revised its 2018 policies to include language on disciplinary action after a row involving its journalists spilled over onto Twitter.

The Washington Post updated its policies a month later after another high-profile Twitter clash which drew in multiple Post staffers and resulted in the firing of one reporter and the suspension of another.

In 2020, the BBC revised its 2019 guidelines after a row over “virtue signalling” saying that staff could not use activist hashtags or retweets “no matter how worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”.

And in a situation which echoes the current BBC brouhaha, the US sports giant ESPN revamped its guidelines in 2017 after suspending TV anchor Jemele Hill for tweeting that then-president Donald Trump was racist. Like Lineker, Hill worked in sports rather than news – but ESPN said it needed to revisit the guidelines to make sure that all employees, no matter the field, were aware of the new expectations around impartiality on social media.

ESPN’s 2017 guidelines were markedly different to their 2011 policies which, like many others, were focused more on maintaining control of content than concerns about political commentary. It’s difficult to comprehend now, but news outlets initially declined to set formal policies. Most have tended to use what the BBC used to see as its “common sense” approach. This was that reporters should refrain from posting anything “that would embarrass them personally or professionally or their organisation”. This hands-off style of guidance was perhaps best symbolised by the reluctance of The New York Times to set any policy at all.

The BBC, like many news organisations surveyed here, is in a different place now. The concerns about reputational damage are driving policy to the point that a survey I conducted of 13 mainstream news organisations in the US, Canada, the UK, and Ireland shows that impartiality is the primary theme among a wide swath of news organisations. The list includes state broadcasters (RTÉ, CBC, BBC and NPR), commercial broadcasters (Sky), centre-right tabloids (Globe and Mail, Daily Express/Daily Star), centre-left broadsheets (The Guardian and The New York Times) as well as wire agencies (Reuters and AP), sports news (ESPN) and digital (BuzzFeed).


Impartiality informs every aspect of the guidelines – from obvious pursuits such as commentary to relatively innocuous activities such as “liking” content and retweets. The rules appear to be pretty consistent across regions and types of media outlet.

In the US, the independent non-profit media organisation NPR emphasises the importance of avoiding revealing “personal views on a political or other controversial issue”. Irish state broadcaster RTÉ, meanwhile, warns against showing “bias on current topics” and in the UK the BBC cautions against sharing “views on any policy which is a matter of current political debate”.

In Canada, the Globe and Mail says it’s fine to express views in private but any “political or partisan views which go beyond your public-facing role should not be expressed in public”. ESPN is a bit more nuanced, requesting that employees “do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy”.

But the overriding concern among all news organisations is that any partisan opinions or political views will damage the specific news organisation’s reputation as a source of news and bring them into disrepute.

The problem, as far as the news organisations see it, is that every action of their employees is connected to their workplace. So their social media posts, likes, and shares can be viewed as representing an official position of the organisation. ESPN reminds its employees that “at all times you are representing ESPN, and social sites offer the equivalent of a live microphone”.

RTÉ says that employees are always considered public representatives of the organisation and the Guardian and its stablemate The Observer says that such restrictions extend to every employee associated with their organisation, whether staff or freelance, but particularly those with large followings.


Retweets, as the BBC puts it, are typically viewed as “an expression of opinion on social media”. It’s a comment echoed by the Daily Express/Daily Star which describes them as “an endorsement of the original tweet”.

The Guardian and The New York Times say retweets can reveal “personal prejudices and opinions,” which could raise doubts about a journalist’s ability to cover news events fairly and impartially. As NPR cautions, journalists should not assume that their retweets will not be seen as reflecting their own views: “Don’t assume it’s not going to be viewed that way.”

Liking and friending

Retweets, likes, and friending activities are also considered suspect. The BBC warns against “revealed bias”, in liking and reposting other people’s messages. RTÉ cautions that “liking and following accounts may make other users think those accounts are more trustworthy or that you endorse them”.

The Guardian warns that likes “can easily become public and may be seen as representing an official GNM position”. This is a sentiment echoed in the US where The New York Times emphasises that “everything we post or ‘like’ online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times”.

Disclaimers or separate accounts

Overall, while the guidelines highlight the concerns around impartiality on social media they also highlight the absence of guardrails for journalists using any of these platforms. There is no “un-send” button on social media and frequently used strategies such as disclaimers or private accounts are discouraged with all news outlets saying that neither can help in mitigating negative publicity.

The BBC specifically says that there is no difference between how personal and official accounts are perceived on social media – so it will be interesting to see how the UK public broadcaster’s new guidelines further tighten up what is already a fairly restrictive environment.The Conversation

Kelly Fincham, Lecturer in Journalism and Communications, University of Galway

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using sliders to visualise change over time

In this example I am using the slider to visualise urban sprawl in the seaside village of Bettystown using images from Google Earth.

If you download Google Earth Pro you can adjust the time to collect images from different time periods and then use the Juxtapose tool to do an overlay.

This is a simple, but elegant way to visualise change over time.

Very useful for showing the effects of climate change or conflict.

Understanding headlines in SEO and news analytics

In class today we reviewed the slides from yesterday which looked at how analytics work in the newsroom and the specific parts of content that we need to pay attention to as student journalists (typically headlines and intros).

We then looked at my high-scoring (5k views and counting!) collection of social media policies (see policies on this page) and decided to write some new headlines to improve on the page’s SEO-ability. Why is this? Because the page is not turning up when we search for words like “social media policies” and “news organisations

Clickable headline tool

We used this cool Moz tool to preview the clickable headline (aka title tag) and then students submitted their entries to be used on the piece.

Students also suggested that I change around the intro to see if that helps the piece get picked up and shared more widely and I think they might be right!

I am running an A/B test on the headline and the winning headline-writer is going to get a gift card!

The winning headline-writer will be the one whose headline gets the highest Content Engagement Rank from Google’s new News Analytics. As you can see from the screenshot below the original content with the original headline was ranking a lowly 7th on my site.

May the best student win!

Why we do submissions/assessments as WordPress posts

Why we do this assignment (post our content on WordPress)

As you’re probably aware the internet has radically transformed information industries  and journalists are increasingly expected to be able to demonstrate multiple proficiencies across multiple platforms.

Organising your work as a post on a website gives you an opportunity to get the overview of your work in a more holistic and contextual way than handing in assignments on paper or word docs word docs. 

These are the things I am looking for on a Post submission/assessment

Text: Headline & introduction/SEO Keywords in the first paragraph and clear idea of what the story will be about.

Writing/phrasing: Active (not passive voice); clear sentence construction; no ambiguities in the writing creating sentences or paragraphs where reader might be lost/confused.

Image: Adds value to the SEO (refer to the periodic table in Week 3).

Hyperlinks: At least three links help add value to the reader and helps add value to you as Google views external links as evidence of site value 

Word count: This is to give you practice in writing to a specified word count on deadline.

On SEO – there is no need to get to obsessive about SEO just yet as long as you know what it is and how to attempt to look for it.

Screenshot 2022-02-06 at 12.31.26

Countdown to Hofstra Votes Live!

Hofstra students are just days away from their first ever live presidential election simulcast – in the middle of a pandemic – with more than 150 students working remotely and on-set to livestream from the Herbert School of Communication on Long Island. 

Strict social distancing and PPE guidelines will be followed throughout the Herbert School in our newsroom, decision desk, three studios and two control rooms as we update the public with real-time results from the Associated Press and other sources for all of the key national, regional races. 

Among the 150 students is Amudulat Ajasa who will be reporting live from Minnesota

Among the 150 students is Amudulat Ajasa who will be reporting live from Minnesota

All anchors, talent and staff on-campus will wear masks for the entirety of the production and its preparation. 

Hofstra Votes Live, first launched for the 2018 midterm elections, will consist of a one-hour preview show on Nov. 1 and a four-hour simulcast on Nov. 3 streaming on the school’s YouTube and Facebook pages, 88.7FM Radio Hofstra University and The HEAT Network, the student television network. 

Media Assets 

YouTube Links The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication

Facebook Link Herbert School on Facebook

Student leaders Hofstra Votes LIVE | Hofstra | New York

I’d be happy to set up an interview for you with any of the student leaders on the project or with Dean Mark Lukasiewicz of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, who ran presidential election coverage for NBC News for many years. 

Dean Lukasiewicz created the Hofstra Votes Live initiative in 2018.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or requests.

Thank you,

Gab Varano on behalf of the Hofstra Votes Live PR Team

(551) 795-9586


other research

Publications: editor-reviewed

Fincham, K (2016) 11 Ways to Integrate Social Media into J-School Classes, MediaShift Retrieved at http://mediashift.org/ 2016/07/11-ways-integrate-social-media-j-school-classes/

Fincham, K (2015) How to Teach Data Journalism for Beginners. MediaShift. (Change in branding from PBS). Retrieved at http:// mediashift.org/2015/03/how-to-teach-data-journalism-for-beginners/

Fincham, K., Wright, L. (2014) Helping Journalism Faculty Bridge the Social Media Knowledge Gap. PBS MediaShift. Retrieved at http://www.mediashift.org/2014/12/


Fincham K (2014) 24 Hours of Immigration Reform Reporting on Twitter Poynter Foundation. Retrieved at http://www.poynter.org/news/305299/24-hours-of-immigration-reform-reporting-on-twitter/

Fincham, K (2014) 11 Steps to a Better Twitter Stream PBS MediaShift. Retrieved at http:// www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/03/11-steps-to-a-better-twitter-stream/

Fincham, K (2013) How to keep a student news site updated with Rebel Mouse. Poynter Foundation. Retrieved at http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/journalism-education/213283/how-to-keep-a-student-news-site-updated-with-rebelmouse/

Fincham, K (2012) Hofstra students text, tweet and Facebook for Hurricane Sandy reporting ONA Issues. Retrieved at http://onaissues.tumblr.com/post/34840927775/


Fincham, K (2012) What every young journalist should know about using Twitter Poynter Foundation. http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/journalism-education/188408/what-every-young-journalist-should-know-about-using-twitter/

Fincham, K. (2012). 7 ways journalists can make better ethical decisions when using Facebook Poynter Foundation. Retrieved at http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/176649/8-ways-journalists-can-make-better-ethical-decisions-when-using-facebook/

Fincham, K. (2012). How journalism educators can use Coursekit to enhance classroom learning Poynter Foundation. Retrieved at http:/ /www.poynter.org/how-tos/journalism-education/164950/how-journalism-educators-can-use-coursekit-to-enhance-classroom-learning

Fincham, K. (2012) Connecting the dots on data journalism. Poynter Foundation. Retrieved from http:// www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/162131/journalists-connect-the-dots-between-data-reporting-at-columbia-j-school-hackathon

Fincham, K. (2011) 4 Ways journalism educators are using Storify as a teaching tool. Poynter Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/journalism-education/153565/4-ways-journalism-educators-are-using-storify-as-a-teaching-tool/

Fincham, K. (2011). Storify the news: making sense of 140 million tweets a day. Convergence. Retrieved from Convergence Newsletter at USC Columbia http://sc.edu/cmcis/news/convergence/v8no8.html#10

Fincham, K. (2011) Using Storify for journalism education. Storify. Retrieved from http:// storify.com/kellyfincham/using-storify-for-journalism-education

Fincham, K. (2011). Social media and 9.11 / A legacy of silent voices. Irish Examiner. Retrieved from http:// www.examiner.ie/weekend/a-legacy-of-silent-voices-166899.html

Fincham, K. (2011) Storify in the classroom. Journal of Media Literacy. Retrieved from http://jmle.org/blog/?p=495

Presentations: Invited

Fincham K, (2017, February) Presenter and panelist, How Did Social Media Change the 2016 Presidential Race? Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs, Hofstra

Fincham K, (2017, February) Panelist, The New Social Media: Protecting Yourself From Fake News, Social Media Symposium, Hofstra

Fincham K, (2016, December) Presenter, Towards a hybrid media system, Faculty Research Presentation, Hofstra University.

Fincham K, (2015, August) Moderating, Presiding Panelist and Presenter:  Promises and Pitfalls, Teaching Social Media News Practices to the Digitally Active, AEJMC National Conference, San Francisco.

Fincham K, (2014, August) Panelist, Tweet This: Two Weeks on the Social Media Frontlines, AEJMC National Conference, Montreal, Canada.

Fincham K. (2014, August) Teaching tools with IFTTT.com. Editing breakfast, AEJMC National Conference. Montreal, Canada.

Fincham K, Bui, K. (2013, August). Curation Station – Social Media Strategies for Breaking News. Society of Professional Journalists National Conference. Anaheim, California

Fincham, K, (2013, August) Presenter and panelist, Big ideas and best practice for student-produced news. AEJMC National Conference, Washington, D.C.

Fincham K. (2013, August). Teaching editing tips. Editing breakfast, AEJMC National Conference. Washington, D.C.

Fincham K. (2013, April). Copy editing for the digital age, New York Press Association Conference, Saratoga, N.Y.

Fincham K. (2013, February) Tweet That Assignment – A survey of best practice in social media education, panel, Journalism Interactive Conference, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

Fincham K. (2013, February) Teaching social media, panel, Journalism Interactive Conference, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

Fincham K. (2012, September). Copy editing in the digital age. Society of Professional Journalists National Conference, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fincham, K. (2012, October). Social media ethics panel. Communication of Choice and Consequence. The New York State Communication Association, Ellenville, N.Y.

Fincham, K (2012, March) Speaker, Social media panel, Region 1, Society of Professional Journalists Conference, Stony Brook University, N.Y.

Fincham, K. (2011, October). Chair, Research Panel: Social Media: Making and Breaking Connections. Annual conference. The New York State Communication Association, Ellenville, N.Y.

Ramp up your job prospects with Excel and basic data skills

Did you know that new and student journalists can really stand out to potential employers if they develop proficiency in basic data skills?

Do you love sports and want to find a way into sports journalism?

Do you want to learn how to tell richer stories and create multiplatform content?

You bring the story ideas and let Google and Excel help you visualize it! This map – showing food violations at restaurants around Hofstra – was built in 3 minutes by a complete beginner (me!) using Google’s My Maps and a CSV file downloaded from New York’s public data site.

Data skills can also give you the confidence to experiment with story forms. Take a look at this map showing which zip codes support which baseball teams. Want to see more? Look at the sports stories on Chartball  which all started out as datasets!

Interested in giving a voice to the voiceless? Look at this interactive map which vividly illustrates the history of collective violence against black communities in the US in a way that text alone can’t convey.

These are just some of the examples of the content you can create using basic data skills.

And the best thing? No math is needed and no coding is required. 🙂