Advisory 12

TLP Rating: White

Misinformation Threats Alert

CERT Vanuatu and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) provides the following advisory.

CERT Vanuatu (CERTVU) office has received reports regarding “Misinformation” threats and attacks from Internet users in Vanuatu, specifically it’s users using Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This advisory with also assist anyone to understand and avoid misinformation on these platforms. This advisory will also apply on information from online platforms and news and entertainment platforms.

What is misinformation?

The terms “misinformation” has been associated with the neologism “Fake News”, defined by some scholars as “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent.”

The unregulated nature, openness and timeliness of Social Media have largely facilitated the creation and dissemination of misinformation such as disinformation, rumor, spam, fake news, fake advertisement and defamation. To better understand misinformation in Social Media and other online platforms, below are different types of misinformation:

  • Unintentionally-Spread Misinformation:
    Some misinformation is unintentional to deceive its recipients. Regular and benign users may contribute to the propagation merely due to their trust of information sources, such as their friends, families, colleagues and influential users in the social network. Instead of wanting to deceive others, they usually try to inform their social network friends of a certain issue or situation. An example is the current widespread misinformation about COVID-19 Pandemic or Coronavirus.
  • Intentionally-Spread Misinformation:
    Some information are intentionally spread to deceive its recipients, which has triggered the intensive discussion about misinformation and fake news recently. There are usually writers and coordinated groups of spreaders behind the popularity, who have a clear goal and agenda to compile and promote the misinformation. Typical examples of intentionally-spread misinformation including conspiracies, rumors and the fake news of 2016 associated with American Presidential election.
  • Urban Legend:
    Urban Legend is intentionally-spread misinformation that is related to fictional stories about local events. The purpose can often be entertainment.
  • Fake News:
    Fake news are intentionally-spread misinformation that is in the format of news. Recent incidents reveal that fake news can be used as a propaganda and can get viral through news media and social networks.
  • Unverified Information:
    Unverified information is also included in our definition, although it can sometimes be true and accurate. A piece of information can be defined as unverified information before it is verified, and those verified to be false or inaccurate obviously belong to misinformation. It may trigger similar effects as other types of misinformation, such as fear, hatred and astonishment.
  • Rumor:
    Rumor is unverified information that can be true (true rumor). It is a current statement or report spread or delivered without known authority for its truth.
  • Spam:
    A Spam is an unsolicited information that unfairly overwhelms its recipients. It has been found on various platforms including instant messaging, email, fake advertisements and Social Media.

How to detect Misinformation

Misinformation detection seems to be a rather challenging and classification problem, which has the same setting as text categorization tasks, where the content is written and compiled to be distinguishable. For example, sports news articles are meant to be different from political news. By contrast, misinformation posts are deliberately made seemingly real and accurate.

Therefore it is not easy to detect misinformation. However based on information, there are few categorized methods of detecting misinformation as shown below:

  • Content-based misinformation detection:
    Directly detecting misinformation based on its content, such as text, image and video.
  • Context-based misinformation detection:
    Detecting misinformation based on the contextual information available in social media, such as locations and time.
  • Propagation-based misinformation detection:
    Detecting misinformation based on the propagation patterns, i.e.., how misinformation circulates amount users and no legitimate sources added to the information spread, etc.
  • Early detection of misinformation:
    This refers to detecting misinformation in an early stage before it becomes viral, usually without adequate data or accurate labels.

 

How to protect yourself from Misinformation

  1. Pay attention to where your news is coming from.
    News and information coming through your Social Media feeds originate from somewhere else. Always ask yourself, “Where and who is the information coming from and what is the background”
  2. Check the original source of information.
    When getting information from Social Media, understand that platforms such as Twitter or Facebook etc., are for social purposes and fast sharing or exchange of information. Hence, ask questions like, “what’s the actual post?”, “Who is that person?”, “Is that media organization you’ve ever heard of before?, check the URL of the information, ask others if they have received similar information to verify the legitimacy of the information”
  3. Examine the sources and how they are included.
    Look at how sources are treated and referenced. Verify the sources and references from at least 3 other locations that these sources and referenced were previously published.
  4. Read beyond the headline
    It is important to read the story fully to get the theme and intention of the information provided. Very often, headlines are misleading and are not there to inform you, i.e. often headlines have targeted audiences and not meant to be for all.
  5. Verify the news or information from a variety of Sources.
    Always verify and check with additional news sources to confirm information that one feel strongly about.
  6. When you see your friends and family share misinformation, correct them.
    Always be kind when helping people identify misinformation. Don’t insult other people’s intelligence.
  7. Find out what other information is out there.
    For example, if you see a post on Facebook that is interesting and wonder if it is true, then go separately into Google to search and pull up the new articles relating to the Facebook post to see what’s written about that particular topic.

How to report any misinformation to CERT Vanuatu

Here are a few general tips and advice from CERT Vanuatu to protect yourself from misinformation or fake and misleading information during this time. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, CERT Vanuatu is noticing the increase or rise of cyber-threats such as misinformation and online Fraud globally, regionally and more specifically in Vanuatu. Therefore we urge people (Internet users and organizations) in Vanuatu to report misinformation cases to CERT Vanuatu. Below are the steps on how to report cyber-threats incidents to CERT Vanuatu:

  1. Report the incident to CERT Vanuatu on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Call our office on +678 33380 ask for a CERTVU staff and report the incident.
  3. Share this advisory and precaution steps among users in your organization and communities for awareness purposes.
  4. For more information and safety and awareness tips [5], see http://cert.gov.vu/index.php/services/online-advisories-alerts

References

1. https://www.kdd.org/exploration_files/8._CR.10.Misinformation_in_social_media_-_Final.pdf
2. https://asunow.asu.edu/20200407-solutions-7-ways-protect-yourself-against-misinformation
3. http://blog.yalebooks.com/2019/03/15/six-tips-for-avoiding-misinformation-on-social-media/
4. https://blog.dce.harvard.edu/summer/4-tips-spotting-fake-news-story