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Don’t Be Duped!

Deception Detection techniques used by intelligence analysts help you spot fake news.

Only days after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Russian bots began sending messages on social media designed to enflame the debate over gun control. Russians also actively exploited the power of social media to shape people’s perceptions during the 2016 US Presidential campaign, as detailed in the indictment issued by the Mueller investigation targeting 13 Russian operatives.

After hearing both news reports, the first question I asked myself was “How many of the messages I read were fake news, intended to manipulate how I think?”  Even more important questions are: “How would I know I am being manipulated? What could I look for that might tip me off?”

The intelligence community has been working the Deception Detection issue for decades. Over the years, we have developed a list of indicators that suggest that someone is trying to deceive you. The same list can be used to alert you to efforts by people who are trying to influence your thinking by targeting you with fake news.

  1. If the message is exactly what you want to hear, it could be too good to be true! Most of us want to believe that our views are correct. When we see information that confirms our beliefs, we are highly inclined to believe it is true because it confirms our own predilections and biases.
  2. If something shows up in your inbox at the moment that you find yourself trying to make up your mind about an important issue (like which candidate to vote for or what to position to take on a gun law), it may not be a coincidence! There is a good chance you are being targeted by someone who wants to sway how you think.
  3. If the report or post spurs you to change your mind on an important topic or would lead you to alter a key assumption or judgment, be sure to check out the source.
  4. If accepting the new information would cause you to expend or divert significant resources, stop and consider whether it could be fake news before you act.

You can also take measures to make yourself less vulnerable to fake news:

  • Avoid overreliance on a single source of information or a single stream of reporting; monitor a diverse set of news feeds.
  • Be suspicious of news authors or outlets whose sources are unclear; assume that everyone who posts on the internet has an agenda—and that some can be highly malicious.
  • Look for material evidence (an address, phone number, other verifiable information, or alternative confirming source) that would back up a story or message.
  • Consider whether an alternative hypothesis or explanation also merits attention.

Learn more about when to suspect you are receiving fake news and how to protect against in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques. The chapter on Deception Detection in the Handbook also describes how to use the MOM, POP, MOSES, and EVE methods to determine if a document is deceptive.

Interested in learning more about structured analytic techniques and how to use them to improve your everyday analysis? Register today for our popular online course Critical Thinking Fundamentals. This 20-hour program runs for two-weeks, beginning on April 16. Click here for details!