Understanding Misinformation on Mobile Instant Messengers (MIMs)

Research and debate concerning the problem of misinformation has largely focused on its spread via social networking services (SNSs) like Facebook and Twitter. Far less well understood is the spread of problematic content on mobile instant messengers (MIMs). WhatsApp and Viber, among other MIMs, continue to grow in popularity worldwide, even as the popularity of Facebook and Twitter as news sources shows signs of stagnating or declining around the world. Messaging platforms are thus becoming a means through which users learn about the world, as well as a potential vector for the spread of misinformation.

We are conducting surveys, experiments, and interviews in Nigeria, India, Brazil, Pakistan, and Myanmar to assess whether and to what extent MIMs facilitate the spread of misinformation, to determine how and why they do so, as well as assess potential methods of correcting misinformation within MIMs.

Dr. Matthew A. Baum, Principal Investigator
Nic Dias, Researcher
Dr. Irene Pasquetto, Postdoctoral Researcher


The Misinformation Review

The Misinformation Review is a new format of scholarly publication with a fast approach to peer review. It is an interdisciplinary, open access forum where journalists, technologists and educators can connect with timely, peer-reviewed research about misinformation. To learn more visit  shorensteincenter.org/misinforeview.


Information Disorder Lab

The Information Disorder Lab (IDLab) is a project of the Shorenstein Center designed to identify, track, and analyze the spread of mis- and disinformation on the Internet. We share non-partisan, evidence-based research, including weekly briefings, reports, and webinars for U.S. newsrooms, internet platforms, academics and other interested stakeholders.

The IDLab grows out of a core mission of the Shorenstein Center: to explore the intersection and impact of media, politics and public policy in theory and practice. The IDLab is funded by U.S. foundations: Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations.

Our Approach:

  • Topic Monitoring: For each topic area of interest (eg. immigration, election integrity, or the economy), we use a keyword monitoring strategy that surfaces relevant content by iteratively testing and optimizing a network of boolean search queries. The content is then filtered to identify potential disinformation.  Research analysts review the resulting content and identify items for assessment.
  • Source Monitoring: Known sources of information disorder are monitored continuously using a variety of custom-built and off-the-shelf monitoring tools.  New potential sources of problematic content are identified through graph network analysis of engagement with known sources.  Content from these sources is filtered based on engagement and topic and then monitored by research analysts who identify possible disinformation for assessment.
  • Content Assessment: Items identified through source and topic monitoring are coded using a rubric to classify the type of information and quantify its relevance and risk. We analyze content that exceeds a threshold based on this assessment.
  • Content Analysis: Research analysts examine content exceeding the threshold, using a series of reporting and verification procedures to determine the nature and scale of the information disorder.  Based on this analysis the lab may generate a short report to share with stakeholders or combine the identified content with similar instances to explore a broader trend.

This approach is designed to maximize the diversity of sources and content that the IDLab reviews, to eliminate any potential bias and to employ a reproducible framework for evaluating the scale and structure of the information disorder problem.


The Fight Against Disinformation in the U.S.: A Landscape Analysis
October 24, 2018
By Heidi Legg, Director of Special Projects at the Shorenstein Center and Joe Kerwin, Harvard College Senior, Dunster House

Transparency: What’s Gone Wrong with Social Media and What Can We Do About It?
March 27, 2018
By Wael Ghonim, Entrepreneurship Fellow, Fall 2017, and author of Revolution 2.0, and Jake Rashbass, Knox Fellow and Master in Public Policy student, Harvard Kennedy School

The Science of Fake News
Science, March 2018
by David M. J. Lazer, Matthew A. Baum, et al.

Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking
October 31, 2017
By Claire Wardle, PhD and Hossein Derakhshan, with research support from Anne Burns and Nic Dias

Black Pigeon Speaks: The Anatomy of the Worldview of an Alt-Right YouTuber
June 28, 2017
By Zack Exley, Joan Shorenstein Fellow (spring 2017), organizer, author and former senior advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign

Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action
May 2, 2017
Final report written by David Lazer, Matthew Baum, Nir Grinberg, Lisa Friedland, Kenneth Joseph, Will Hobbs, and Carolina Mattsson