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  • Jemma Ward

How to spot a fake: analysing inauthentic content

In 2024, the World Economic Forum (WEF) rated misinformation and disinformation as the top global risk (The Global Risks Report 2024). The WEF judged that false information spread through media networks and online may ‘…radically disrupt electoral processes in several economies over the next two years’ as well as exacerbate and deepen societal polarisation. The acceleration of generative AI, as well as mistrust of governments and electoral processes, are key contributors to the rapid rise of misinformation and disinformation in the risk rankings. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for governments and organisations to understand and monitor the threats posed by inauthentic content online.


Analysing and investigating inauthentic content—including disinformation, misinformation and propaganda—can be a difficult task, requiring analysts to perform validation and verification as well as detailed content and metadata analysis. The inauthentic content analysis map is a resource to assist in interrogating open-source inauthentic content.


How to investigate and analyse inauthentic content

There are lots of approaches to analysing open-source information, and this resource is just one example—depending on the type of content, messaging campaign, and intelligence issue that you are investigating, you might choose to employ different schemas or strategies. At a basic level, though, it is useful to consider the following information about a piece of inauthentic content.


  • Author – who wrote or created the source?

  • Date – when was the source created? What other events may be occurring at this time?

  • Audience – who is the intended or likely audience for this content?

  • Message – what is the key message and subject matter of the source?

  • Agenda – what is the motive behind the source? Does it seek to persuade or convince an audience of something?

  • Nature – what type of source is it, and how does this affect its message, audience, reach and influence?

  • Techniques – what tactics or techniques are used to influence or persuade an audience?

 

Validation and verification of open-source content, and particularly inauthentic content, can be a challenging prospect. This resource maps a variety of suggested tools and resources that can help to answer analytic questions and discover further information about a source’s creator, its provenance, audience, and intended message. 


Evaluating and analysing sources serve different purposes

The inauthentic content analysis map is not a resource for evaluating sources and it is not an alternative to R2C2 or other evaluation frameworks (read more about R2C2 here). However, it will assist analysts in forming judgements about open-source content. While analysis and evaluation of content overlap, it’s useful to think about source analysis as a separate process to evaluation. 


Source evaluation is necessary to determine how and why we might use a source in a product and as evidence for an assessment. Source analysis, on the other hand, refers to our interrogation of a source of information—how, when, where and why it was created, and by whom? What is its message and agenda? What techniques are used to convey the source’s message? Once we have thoroughly analysed a piece of content, we are better prepared to use a methodology like R2C2 to evaluate it in relation to our intelligence question. 


We do, of course, want to consider the relevance of information from the beginning—otherwise, a deep analysis of the nature of the source might be a waste of time, if the information isn’t relevant to our topic or issue. 


If I follow the steps in the map, will my analysis be complete?

This resource is not intended as an exhaustive list of questions and steps for inauthentic content analysis. Rather, it is designed to help analysts move from their initial or superficial analysis to deeper questioning of a source, along with highlighting validation and verification techniques for online content.


You may hear intelligence analysts talk about something called ‘first pass analysis’. This phrase might mean slightly different things in different contexts and types of analysis. For our purposes, we can take it to mean the foundational analysis that we conduct on an initial reading or viewing of a source. During your first scan of a source, your judgements about it are likely to be simplistic and surface-level but will hopefully identify useful indicators for whether a source a) is relevant to your topic or issue and b) if it warrants more in-depth analysis.


The inauthentic content analysis map provides further questions, tools and pathways for interrogating a source beyond our initial reading. But, as with most analysis tools, it isn’t a perfect or complete solution.


Can I use this resource for analysing open-source information that is not inauthentic?

Of course—although some questions and tools have been chosen with disinformation and misinformation analysis in mind, the map can still be used for other kinds of open-source content analysis.


To support your OSINT collection and analytical capability uplift, contact us at training@osintcombine.com to learn about our off-the-shelf and bespoke training offerings, including 'Disinformation: Detection, Collection, and Analysis'. This course is also available as an on-demand course via our Academy. 

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