Lesson Plan: Why does misinformation spread?

Disinformation and Misinformation on the Internet

Harold Feld of Public Knowledge talked about the differences between disinformation and misinformation on the internet.


This lesson focuses on the spread of misinformation and disinformation in society. Students will explore why false information is believed and spreads by looking at psychological factors, the current media environment, and people’s news literacy skills. Students will be able to explain why this misinformation spreads and develop ways to address it.


  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or independently by students.

    Each activity, video and handout included in the lesson can be linked to an online discussion board or learning management system. You can also save and share the following Google handout for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: The Spread of Misinformation (Google Doc)

    By making a copy of this Google Doc, you can adjust the instructions to meet the needs of your class and provide that copy to your students. Your students can also make a copy and complete the assignments digitally in the space provided.

  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by engaging students in a discussion about false information and why it is harmful to a society. Have the students free write a response to the following question. Students can share their ideas with the class.

    • How can the spread of false information be harmful to a society?

    After discussing the harm that false information can do society, introduce the idea of disinformation and misinformation by having the students view the following video clip. They should answer the questions associated with the video clip as they watch. Students can access the video clip and the questions using the handout.

    Video Clip 1: Disinformation and Misinformation on the Internet (2:15)

    • How does Harold Feld define disinformation? What is an example of this?

    • How does Harold Feld define misinformation? What is an example of this?

    • What are the differences between disinformation, misinformation, and opinion?

    • What are potential consequences of disinformation and misinformation?

    Have the students brainstorm a list of reasons why they think people believe and spread misinformation and disinformation. Have them cite examples of misinformation and disinformation that they see in their lives as they make their list.

    Students should share their ideas with a partner before engaging with a full class discussion. Record the students’ responses to reference later.


    Students will use the video clips listed below to develop ideas about why misinformation spreads. They will use the note-taking chart to provide the following information about the spread of misinformation.

    • What factors contribute to the spread of false information?

    • What challenges do people face when dealing with misinformation?

    • What examples do you see in your own life?

    Video Clip 2: News Literacy Skills and Misinformation (3:23)

    Video Clip 3: Polarization and Misinformation (3:41)

    Video Clip 4: Tristan Harris on the Social Media Business Models (2:46)

    Video Clip 5: The Spread of Misinformation (3:55)

    Video Clip 6: Cognitive Bias and Misinformation (3:35)


    Students will use what they learned from their notes and their own experiences to address the following prompt. This can be a written response and/or a class discussion. If using a class discussion, the class brainstorm list from earlier in the lesson can be added to as students discuss new ideas.

    • Why does misinformation spread and what can be done to limit its spread?
  • WRAP-UP:

    To conclude the lesson, have students answer the warm-up question again based on what they learned. They should support this answer with evidence from the lesson.

    • How can the spread of false information be harmful to a society?

    Public Awareness Advertisement- Using information form the lesson, develop an advertisement that raises awareness about the dangers of spreading misinformation and ways to avoid it. This advertisement can be in the form of a video, infographic, or billboard.

    Current Event Research- Find a reputable news article that relates to the topic of spreading information. Read the articles and provide the following information:

    • Summarize the article.

    • Cite this article.

    • How does this article relate to misinformation? (What occurred? What actions are being taken to address misinformation?)

    • What is your reaction to the story in this article?

    • To what extent is our susceptibility to believe misinformation part of our “human nature?”

    • How does social media impact the spread of misinformation?

    • Should the government be responsible for stopping misinformation?

    • Should social media platforms do more to prevent the spread of misinformation? If so, what?

Additional Resources


  • Algorithm
  • Anecdote
  • Business Model
  • Cognitive Bias
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Conspiracy Theory
  • Disinformation
  • Echo Chamber
  • Exacerbate
  • False Narrative
  • Heuristics
  • Information Ecosystem
  • Misinformation
  • Opinion Piece
  • Polarization
  • Recency Bias
  • Social Media
  • Tribalism


MediaScience & Technology


High SchoolUniversity