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Cheat Sheet: The Brain and Disinformation
Continued Influence Effect
People continue to believe an earlier piece of disinformation, even after it has been disproved by newer information.
Growing up with an old wives tale like ‘going outside with wet hair causes a cold’ makes you dry your hair even though you know it to be scientifically false.
Illusory Truth Effect
What is familiar is accepted as true, even when contrary to sense (e.g. it comes from an untrustworthy source).
Hearing an advertising jingle so many times you start thinking that maybe you should nip into Natrad.
Confirmation Bias
General term for the tendency to reject information which contradicts beliefs or misinterpret it to confirm those beliefs.
Someone makes a spectacular recovery from a serious illness. A religious person may see it as a ‘miracle’ due to prayer, as opposed to a triumph of medicine.
Backfire Effect
Clear facts that disprove a strongly held belief only reinforce that belief. The reaction can be strong or violent.
Showing a voter negative information about their candidate (e.g. ‘he paid off a porn star’) increases their support for the candidate.
Politically Motivated Reasoning
People see the same information, which reinforces their opposing beliefs in opposite directions.
I might see David Hasselhoff’s German pop success as an indication of his versatility and resilience, while my friend sees it as proof that he was always a hack. It really depends on your underlying view of The Hoff going in.
Cheat Sheet: Defeating Disinformation



Don’t negate disinformation
Our brains skip the ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ or ‘I am not’ and only hear the rest of the sentence which you are trying to refute.
I wasn’t worried about the covid vaccine making me grow horns until you just told me ‘the covid vaccine will not make you grow horns’
Don’t myth-bust disinformation
Factual corrections are at best ineffective but likely do more harm than good. Repeating the myth makes it stickier and more familiar.
I see a myth-busting article about the covid vaccine not causing horn-growing, and a week later my brain can only recall the link between ‘covid vaccine’ and ‘horn-growing.’
Don’t label disinformation
Putting a label on a social media post is a big flag that raises its prominence, provides a badge of honour, and makes people worse at judging other posts.
You are scrolling through your Facebook feed and something catches your eye: the post that has a big label on it. Minutes later you’re drinking bleach to cure covid.
Don’t amplify disinformation
The ‘Streisand Effect’: trying to suppress something can bring more attention to it. Sharing, commenting, or condemning disinformation gives it more prominence and a leg up in the social media algorithm.
The government bans Milo Yiannopoulos from entering Australia, and the media coverage about what ideas were barred from entry spreads them much further than the university forum he was going to speak at.



By being exposed to weakened doses of disinformation techniques first, people develop resistant antibodies.
Playing a game about disinformation then makes you less likely to share disinformation when you see it in the real world.
Warning people about the dangers of disinformation, what to look out for, and who will do it, blunts the impact of subsequent disinformation. Getting the truth to them first is the best defence against any lie.
If I outbid Clive Palmer and put an ad on the front page saying ‘Clive Palmer is a liar’ then his ad which I had relegated to page 2 would be much less effective with those who saw mine first.
Most disinformation is shared because we are lazy, not evil. Prompting someone to think about accuracy before they post can halve the number of shares of disinformation.
I watch another great episode of Bachelor In Paradise and want to rave about it on Twitter. My wife reminds me I’m supposed to be a highbrow author and should probably think what that says about me first.
Removing the worst or highest profile accounts from the social media platforms significantly suppresses the spread of disinformation. It may however just move it deeper underground.
Pete Evans being banned from Facebook and Instagram proves the only thing more insufferable than hearing from Pete Evans is hearing from people who can no longer hear from Pete Evans.
Argue in their value frame
As soon as an argument triggers our identity or values, the brain behaves differently. We can only convince people if we frame our arguments in ways that appeal to their values, not ours.
I will get much further telling those Pete Evans fans ‘We’re both My Kitchen Rules fans, and it will be cancelled for another season unless we get vaccinated’ than I would sending them a WHO factsheet.
Lower the stakes
We often address disinformation by making the other person have to admit they are stupid in order to admit they are wrong. It’s better to find common ground and model open-mindedness.
I ask someone to tell me more about their reasons for not getting vaccinated and see if I agree with part of any of them. Emphasise those (‘I guess you’re right, I should do my research.’)
Take the chat private
The social pressure to conform means we have to take the conversation private if we want someone to admit they are wrong.
When my crazy uncle posts a hilarious meme that global warming is a hoax because it’s cold today, I send him a private message to chat weather patterns, rather than comment on his post.
The Fact Sandwich
If you absolutely have to ever state a myth to debunk it (but please don’t), you need to surround it by facts and an explanation of why it is wrong. State the facts as many times as you can.
I can no longer ignore your ignorance: ‘Cast iron is the best non-stick cooking surface. You may hear other crazy ideas, like Teflon being more non-stick. But that is PR spin, after a month you need a new pan. Cast iron is non-stick forever. It is the best cooking surface.’
Tell a better story
Disinformation doesn’t win because it is false, but because it’s usually a better yarn. Facts don’t speak for themselves, they need to be packaged in a more compelling story than the myths they are trying to dislodge.
Winning over voters in coal mining regions by telling a great story about how clean energy will improve their lives and their children will thrive, as opposed to giving them a set of facts about emissions.
Get to the brain first
Unlike Scott Morrison’s vaccine rollout, this is a race. If you can get to a person’s brain before a falsehood, the truth takes up residency and is hard to dislodge.
Concerned about Clive Palmer’s forthcoming vampire accusations, the head of ASIC runs front page ads saying ‘I sleep at night and love garlic’ before anyone sees disinformation to the contrary.
Pique curiosity
By engaging people’s curiosity, you bypass many of the brain’s defences to fact-resistance. They will be more open to changing their opinion.
I ask my flat-earth friend: ‘I bet you’ll never guess what the first astronauts said about the earth when they saw it from space’ instead of flat out telling him the earth is round.
Echo chamber
Those spreading disinformation are way more motivated and organised than those who believe in facts. Match the intensity gap by sharing reality with the same organised fervour.
Instead of waiting to respond to your vaccine hesitant friends, you conspire with a group of peers to all share the same article about vaccine safety, and to boost each other’s posts like our lives depend on it.
Because they do.
Further Reading
Below is the 'Further Reading' section you may have seen in the book (and some more for good measure), but now with direct links to the articles or documents - take that, paper! Some of the key resources are also embedded below the Further Reading list on this page.

o Arendt, H., Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, Viking Press, 1968

o Plato, Plato’s The Republic, New York: Books, Inc., 1943

o Ackland, R., Jensen, M., O’Neil, M., Submission to the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media [Download link], Canberra: News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra. 2020
See all the submissions to that inquiry here.

o Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Digital Platforms Inquiry— Final Report, 2019

o Graham, Timothy, ‘The story of #DanLiedPeopleDied: how a hashtag reveals Australia’s “information disorder” problem.The Conversation, 14 August 2020

o O’Neil, M. & Jensen, M.J., Australian Perspectives on Misinformation. Canberra: News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra. 2020 (and see embedded in section below)

o Sear, Tom & Jensen, Michael, ‘Russian trolls targeted Australian voters on Twitter via #auspol and #MH17’, The Conversation, 22 August 2018

o Castells, M., ‘The Impact of the Internet on Society: A Global Perspective’ in Benkler, Y., et al. Ch@nge: 19 Key Essays on How the Internet is Changing Our Lives. BBVA (Firm), 2014

o Kwan, V., Responsible Reporting in an Age of Information Disorder, First Draft, October 2019 (and see embedded in section below)

o Mihailidis, P., ‘Civic media literacies: Re-imagining engagement for civic intentionality’, Learning, Media and Technology', 2018, vol. 43, pp. 1–13

o PEN America, LOSING THE NEWS: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions, 20 November 2019

o Phillips, Whitney, The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators Online, Data & Society, 2018 (and see embedded in section below)

o Wardle, Claire, ‘10 questions to ask before covering misinformation’, First Draft, 29 September 2017

o Coppins, McKay, ‘The 2020 disinformation war’, The Atlantic, March 2020

o Election Integrity Partnership, The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election, Stanford Digital Repository, 2021
And the EIP website:

o Hindman, M. & Barash, V., Disinformation, ‘Fake News’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter, The Knight Foundation, October 2018
And their fantastic interactive visualisation:

o Nimmo, B., et al., Exposing Secondary Infektion, Graphika, 2020

o Rid, T. Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020

o The Center for Countering Digital Hate, Pandemic Profiteers: The Business of Anti-vaxx, 2021

o Wardle, Claire, ‘Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder’ ($), Scientific American, September 2019

o Wardle, Claire, First Draft’s Essential Guide to Understanding Information Disorder, First Draft, October 2019 (and see embedded in section below)

o Woolley, S. and Howard, P.N. (eds), Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media, Oxford University Press, 2019

o Basol, M., et al. ‘Towards psychological herd immunity: Cross-cultural evidence for two prebunking interventions against COVID-19 misinformation’. Big Data & Society. January 2021

o Cook, J., Ecker, U. & Lewandowsky, S., ‘Misinformation and how to correct it’, in R.A. Scott and S.M. Kosslyn (eds), Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2015

o Lewandowsky, S., et al. The Debunking Handbook 2020. (and see embedded in section below)
Translations are available here.
Want to see how the sausage was made? The authors wrote a fascinating paper on the process of writing the Handbook: Under the Hood of The Debunking Handbook 2020: A consensus-based handbook of recommendations for correcting or preventing misinformation

o Kahan, D., ‘The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm’, in R.A. Scott and S.M. Kosslyn (eds), Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, 2015

o Kahan, D., ‘Why we are poles apart on climate change’, Nature, 2012, vol. 488

o Lakoff, G., Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives, White River Junction, VT.: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 2004

o Resnick, Brian, ‘9 Essential Lessons From Psychology to Understand the Trump Era’, Vox, 10 January 2019

o Sachs, J., Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—The Best Stories Will Rule the Future, Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012

o Westen, D., The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, New York: Public Affairs, 2007

o Greifeneder, R., et al. (eds.). The Psychology of Fake News: Accepting, Sharing, and Correcting Misinformation (1st ed.). Routledge. 2020 (and see embedded in section below)

o Haidt, J., The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, New York: Pantheon, 2012. The book has a website with lots of great resources:

o Kahan, D., ‘Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection: An experimental study’, Judgment and Decision Making, 2013, vol. 8, pp. 407–424

o Lewandowsky S, et al. ‘Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing’. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2012 Dec;13(3) pp. 106–31

o al-Gharbi, Musa, ‘Three Strategies for Navigating Moral Disagreements’, Heterodox, 16 February 2018

o Pennycook, G., Rand, D., ‘The Psychology of Fake News’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 25, Issue 5, 2021, pp. 388–402

Title of the document

Lewandowsky et al, The Debunking Handbook 2020

Title of the document

Claire Wardle, Understanding Information Disorder, First Draft

Title of the document

Victoria Kwan, Responsible Reporting in an Age of Information Disorder, First Draft

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Whitney Phillips, The Oxygen of Amplification, Data & Society

Title of the document

Mathieu O’Neil & Michael Jensen, Australian Perspectives on Misinformation, UC

Title of the document

Rainer Greifeneder et al, The Psychology of Fake News, Routledge

Title of the document

Gordon Pennycook and David G. Rand, The Psychology of Fake News, Trends in Cognitive Science

Who to Follow

This is a really fast-moving topic, which can stay well ahead of publishing timelines. So to keep up to date in real time with who is spreading disinformation and how you should follow these Twitter accounts:

For what's happening in Australia follow this list on Twitter:

For disinformation in general follow this list on Twitter: :

Websites you should know

These are sites where you'll find other really useful resources on disinformation or tools to detect and fight it:

Know of other great ones? Contact us and let us know.

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