Concerns about the health of democracy and the public sphere are increasing due to the ease with which foreign and domestic malign actors can spread misleading and manipulative claims. Misinformation, or misleading information spread unwittingly, is often distinguished from disinformation, which is misleading information spread with the intent to cause harm. Yet many successful disinformation campaigns contain true information, covertly disseminated to embarrass political targets: the quality of the information matters less than the nature of the operation it is part of. Although the content of messages need not be false to deceive, the ability to identify and protect true claims remains critically important. Misinformation and disinformation and their effects are complex and interwoven with countless socio-political and psychological issues.

This report brings together several sources of data. The background to the report is the results from two existing N&MRC reports: Digital news report: Australia 2020 and COVID-19: Australian news and misinformation report, both of which tracked perceptions of misinformation in the Australian news consumers in 2020.

The report next profiles two case studies: an analysis of campaigns by Russian Internet Research Agency "troll" accounts on in the Australian Twittersphere in the lead-up to the 2016 Australian Federal election, and an interview with a young ABC digital journalist about how misinformation affects her work practice. The fourth chapter replaces misinformation in a historical context and reviews psychology and networked communication approaches to understanding it. The report also features expert comments by three leading Australian journalists and researchers.

Finally, the report relays a set of practical messages to help teachers and politicians communicate about information literacy, and outlines a series of hypothetical steps for how people might establish a fact-based common understanding with a conspiracy believer.

Related Information

Digital news report: Australia 2020

COVID-19: Australian news and misinformation

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