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Click through and find

Author: Mike Caulfield

Caulfield, Mike. “Click through and Find.” Sifting Through the Pandemic, 27 Feb. 2020,


  • One of the most common and damaging disinformation techniques is false framing — linking a real article but summarizing it in a way that is deceptive
  • The solution? Click through to the article and do a quick web page search for relevant terms.
  • If you find the relevant terms, and the surrounding text supports the sharing source’s summary, you might be okay.
  • If you don’t find the relevant terms, you’ll need to read the whole article carefully before sharing or commenting. Or maybe just wait for better information!

Of all the lessons, this might be the most important, because it addresses one of the primary means through which disinformation and misinformation is spread.

A lot of folks think that misinformation looks like “fake news” sites. False newspapers, conspiracy websites. And there’s certainly plenty of that.

But the most effective technique I see today is “false framing”.

How does false framing work? Simple. You link to a reputable source, but the surrounding context you provide is false. Take this example. It claims that the “head coronavirus researcher” at Harvard has been arrested for collaborating with the Chinese government. Big if true, as they say.

Even more, when we scroll down we see it links to CNN! And the article headline has the basics — Harvard professor, arrested, Chinese government ties. Except — there’s a piece of this missing, isn’t there? Is he really the Coronavirus Head Biologist? Because that would be a weird coincidence.

The thing is, there’s two parts to this — the linked story (from a reputable source) and the summary of what is in that linked story, which here is provided by someone we neither know or trust.

So what do we do? We click into the story. And the first thing we do is check the date, to make sure this isn’t an old story someone is recycling. In this case it’s not, it’s relatively new.

So for step two we search the page for the term “coronavirus”. On a desktop browser you hit Ctrl-F (Cmd-F on a Mac). On a phone you use the little dropdown menu your browser provides (usually the upper right corner of your browser).

And when we do that, here’s what we find. The term “coronavirus” isn’t in the story. The only hit we get is another headline at the bottom of the page. You can plug in a few more COVID-19 terms, but you won’t find those either.

If you want to read more deeply, you can. The story is about economic espionage — the attempt of the Chinese government to steal medical research secrets for financial gain. But the important thing here is the quick check done through searching the page — by doing this quick check you find out whether the claim looks plausible (if you found these terms) or dubious (if you didn’t).

So verify the frame by clicking through and searching. And do it every time, unless you have high trust in the sharing source.

DMU Timestamp: March 12, 2020 00:41

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