General informal fallacies

Informal fallacies originates in an error in reasoning other than an improper logical form.

False Attribution Fallacy

False attribution fallacy (also known as the fallacy of misplaced attribution) occurs when someone attributes a particular statement, idea, or action to a source that did not actually make or endorse it. This fallacy is often used in disinformation campaigns to mislead the public and manipulate perceptions.

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Video by Joey Harbour | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • Creating false authority by falsely attributing information or claims to trusted or authoritative sources to give them credibility and induce the audience into believing their narrative.
  • Impersonating credible sources by creating fake social media accounts, websites, or news outlets that mimic legitimate sources and thus present themselves as reputable sources of information.
  • Misquoting or distorting statements by selectively quoting or misrepresenting statements made by legitimate sources to support a particular narrative by taking quotes out of context, altering their meaning, or attributing false statements to credible sources.
  • Using anonymous or pseudonymous sources relies on anonymous or pseudonymous sources to attribute false information so as to avoid scrutiny and accountability for the accuracy of their claims.
  • Exploiting public trust in familiar names or authoritative figures by associating disinformation with respected entities.

False Authority Fallacy

The false authority fallacy occurs when someone appeals to an individual's or organisation's perceived authority or expertise to support their argument or claim, even when that authority is not valid or reliable. In the context of disinformation, this fallacy is employed to deceive and mislead the public by leveraging the credibility associated with certain figures or institutions.

"This super-cool diet that my favourite influencer shared last week is great - and she says it can even reverse cancer! No wonder doctors are silent about it, who would go to the hospital to get poisoned if they can get cured by a simple food regimen."

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • Unsubstantiated claims of expertise occur when misleading information is spread by individuals, groups or organisations who claim to possess expertise or authority in a particular field but in fact, lack the necessary qualifications or credibility.
  • Casting doubt on scientific findings and consensus by presenting opposing views as possessing equal weight.
  • Using endorsement by public figures or celebrities gives a false impression of credibility and authority to a particular claim, even if these individuals have no relevant qualifications or expertise.
  • Undermining expertise and authority. Genuine authority and expertise are built upon rigorous study, experience, and adherence to established standards of knowledge and evidence. Relying on false authorities not only perpetuates misinformation but also undermines trust in legitimate experts and institutions.

False Dilemma Fallacy

The false dilemma fallacy occurs when someone falsely presents a situation as having only two options when in reality, there are more possibilities available. By limiting the options and framing the issue as a strict choice between two extremes, disinformation campaigns can manipulate public perception and polarise opinions.

"Anyone who doesn't back our proposed educational reforms, must not care about our children's future!"

"You're either for strict immigration laws, or you're in favor of open borders and unchecked crime!"

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • For instance, in the context of immigration debates, disinformation campaigns may present the issue as a choice between completely open borders and stringent immigration restrictions. By ignoring potential middle-ground solutions, such as comprehensive immigration reform or humanitarian pathways, the false dilemma fallacy oversimplifies a complex issue and fosters a divisive narrative.
  • This disinformation tactic also often plays on emotions and exploits fears. By presenting the choices as extreme opposites, such as portraying refugees and migrants as either dangerous threats or helpless victims, the false dilemma fallacy disregards the complexity and diversity of circumstances surrounding migration and asylum-seeking.
  • It is essential to recognize that many policy issues involve a wide range of potential solutions and alternatives. The false dilemma fallacy inhibits meaningful dialogue by limiting the options and promoting a polarized perspective. Constructive discussions and effective policy-making require considering multiple perspectives and exploring nuanced approaches that acknowledge the complexities of the issue at hand.
  • Disinformation campaigns that employ the false dilemma fallacy hinder informed decision-making, perpetuate divisiveness, and impede progress towards finding balanced and comprehensive solutions.

Fallacy of the Single Cause

Fallacy of the single cause, also known as the oversimplification fallacy or causal reductionism, occurs when someone attributes a complex event or phenomenon to a single cause or factor, disregarding the presence of multiple contributing factors or complexities involved.

"It's all very simple - ban violent video games and youth crime will go down."

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Video by Martymer 81 | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • Oversimplifying complex issues and misleading the public by presenting a reductionist explanation, disregarding the multifaceted nature of the problems and oversimplifying the reality, leading to false conclusions.
  • In the context of disinformation, an example of the fallacy of the single cause could be the attribution of a societal problem or outcome to a single factor, such as blaming a specific group or ideology for all the issues within a country or region.
  • For instance, a disinformation campaign might assert that a rise in crime is solely caused by immigration or that economic challenges are exclusively due to specific trade policies. By reducing complex issues to a single cause, the campaign 
  • Exploiting biases and reinforcing pre-existing beliefs by focusing on a single factor can manipulate public opinion and foster scapegoating or division, thus diverting attention from other significant factors or systemic issues.
  • It is important to recognize that most phenomena or problems have multiple causes or contributing factors. Comprehensive analysis and a nuanced understanding are required to address complex issues effectively. Engaging in critical thinking, seeking diverse perspectives, and considering a broad range of evidence are crucial in avoiding the fallacy of a single cause.

False Equivalence Fallacy

The false equivalence fallacy occurs when two things are presented as equal or comparable, even though there is a significant imbalance or difference between them.

"I don't see much difference here: using personal data for targeted advertising and using personal data for political espionage are the same thing because they both involve data usage. So why ban one and allow the other?"

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Video by Above The Noise| Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • One example of disinformation using the false equivalence fallacy is the claim that vaccines are just as dangerous as the diseases they prevent. This disinformation campaign aimed to undermine public trust in vaccination programs by equating the risks of vaccines with the actual diseases they are designed to protect against.
  • The false equivalence fallacy occurs when two things are presented as equal or comparable, even though there is a significant imbalance or difference between them. In this case, the false equivalence fallacy suggests that the risks associated with vaccines are equivalent to, or even greater than, the risks of contracting and suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • This disinformation campaign spread through various channels, including social media platforms, conspiracy websites, and anti-vaccine groups. It often relied on anecdotal stories and cherry-picked data to create a misleading narrative. By presenting the risks of vaccines without proper context or scientific evidence, this false equivalence fallacy aimed to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, ultimately discouraging vaccination efforts.
  • It is important to note that extensive scientific research has consistently shown that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any potential risks. Vaccines have been instrumental in preventing numerous infectious diseases and saving millions of lives worldwide. However, disinformation campaigns like the one described above have contributed to vaccine hesitancy and undermined public health efforts.

Slippery Slope

The slippery slope fallacy occurs when someone argues that a particular action or event will lead to a series of increasingly negative or extreme consequences without providing sufficient evidence or a logical connection between each step.

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • This fallacy suggests that if one event occurs, a chain reaction of harmful or undesirable outcomes will inevitably follow, without considering alternative possibilities or mitigating factors.
  • In the context of disinformation, an example of the slippery slope fallacy could be a campaign that asserts that accepting a specific policy or allowing a particular change will inevitably lead to a series of disastrous or catastrophic outcomes.
  • For instance, a disinformation campaign might claim that implementing a certain regulation will result in the complete loss of personal freedoms, without offering substantial evidence or a logical connection between the regulation and the extreme outcome. By presenting a hypothetical chain of negative consequences without demonstrating causality, the campaign attempts to instill fear and opposition to the proposed policy.
  • It is important to recognize that the slippery slope fallacy ignores the complexity of real-world scenarios and fails to consider potential intermediate steps or mitigating measures. Evaluating the merits and consequences of an action or policy requires a more nuanced approach, considering evidence, logical reasoning, and potential counterarguments.
  • By promoting critical thinking and fact-checking, individuals can identify instances of the slippery slope fallacy and demand a more reasoned and evidence-based approach to decision-making. Engaging in thoughtful analysis, seeking diverse perspectives, and questioning the causal connections presented are essential in countering disinformation campaigns that rely on the slippery slope fallacy.

Incomplete Comparison Fallacy

The incomplete comparison fallacy (also known as the fallacy of incomplete evidence or the fallacy of insufficient statistics), occurs when someone draws a conclusion based on an inadequate or incomplete comparison between two or more things.

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

How it may promote disinformation?

  • This fallacy can be used in disinformation campaigns to mislead or deceive by presenting an incomplete picture or cherry-picking data to support a particular narrative.
  • In the context of disinformation, an example of the incomplete comparison fallacy could be the selective use of statistics to downplay or exaggerate the impact of certain policies or events. By presenting partial or skewed data, a disinformation campaign may create a misleading impression or manipulate public perception.
  • For instance, a disinformation campaign might compare the economic performance of two countries, but selectively focus on one specific indicator or time period while ignoring other relevant factors. This incomplete comparison could lead to a distorted representation of the true economic situation, favoring one country over another.
  • Additionally, the incomplete comparison fallacy could be employed to misrepresent the effects of a particular policy or action by highlighting only the positive or negative aspects while neglecting the broader context. By selectively emphasizing certain consequences or impacts and neglecting others, a disinformation campaign can distort the overall assessment and mislead the public.
  • It is crucial to critically evaluate comparisons and ensure that they consider all relevant factors and context. By scrutinizing the data, seeking diverse perspectives, and engaging in comprehensive analysis, we can avoid falling prey to the incomplete comparison fallacy and make more informed judgments.
  • Promoting media literacy and encouraging critical thinking skills are important in combating the influence of disinformation campaigns that employ the incomplete comparison fallacy. By actively seeking out reliable sources, considering multiple viewpoints, and analyzing complete sets of data, we can mitigate the impact of incomplete or misleading comparisons.

Circular Reasoning Fallacy

The circular reasoning fallacy (also known as begging the question or circular logic), occurs when an argument assumes the conclusion it is trying to prove. This fallacy involves using a statement or proposition as evidence for itself, without offering independent or valid support.

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How it may promote disinformation?

  • Disinformation campaigns may exploit circular reasoning to create the illusion of a valid argument or to perpetuate a particular narrative without substantiating it.
  • In the context of disinformation, an example of the circular reasoning fallacy could be a campaign that presents a statement as true by using the same statement as evidence. Rather than providing new information or logical reasoning, the campaign simply reiterates the initial claim as if it were already established.
  • For instance, a disinformation campaign might assert that a particular conspiracy theory is true because "there is evidence that supports it." However, upon closer examination, the evidence provided is merely restating the initial claim or relying on sources that are themselves part of the same conspiracy theory, creating a circular loop of unsupported assertions.
  • Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy because it fails to offer valid justification or evidence independent of the claim being made. It ultimately leads to a circular argument that does not provide a satisfactory foundation for establishing truth or credibility.
  • To avoid falling for circular reasoning in disinformation campaigns, it is important to demand independent evidence, logical coherence, and external validation. Engaging in critical thinking, fact-checking claims with reliable sources, and seeking diverse perspectives can help identify instances of circular reasoning and foster a more discerning approach to information consumption.

Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

The appeal to ignorance fallacy (also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam), occurs when someone argues that a claim must be true (or false) because it has not been proven otherwise. This fallacy relies on the lack of evidence or knowledge to support a specific conclusion, rather than presenting positive evidence or valid reasoning.

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How it may promote disinformation?

  • Creating doubt and manipulating public perception by claiming that a conspiracy theory must be true, because no one has been able to disprove it definitely, thus shifting the burden of proof onto others.
  • Conversely, the appeal to ignorance fallacy can also be employed to argue against a claim based on the absence of evidence supporting it. A disinformation campaign might assert that a particular phenomenon or event cannot exist or happen because there is no conclusive evidence to prove its occurrence. By using the lack of evidence as a basis for dismissing a claim, the campaign seeks to undermine valid inquiries or legitimate evidence.
  • It is important to recognize that the lack of evidence or knowledge about a particular subject does not prove the truth or falsity of a claim. The appeal to ignorance fallacy disregards the need for positive evidence and logical reasoning to establish the validity of a claim.
  • To counter the influence of the appeal to ignorance fallacy in disinformation campaigns, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, and thorough investigation. Actively seeking out credible sources, demanding verifiable evidence, and engaging in fact-checking are essential in promoting a more informed and discerning approach to information consumption.

Other related resources from our collection

Biases which frequently come into play with disinformation and help it influence our opinions and behaviours:

  • Authority bias
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Bias blind spot
  • Confirmation bias
  • Continued influence effect
  • Curse of knowledge
  • Dunning-Kruger effect
  • False consensus effect
  • Halo effect
  • Identifiable victim effect
  • In-group bias
  • Reactive devaluation
  • Selective perception
  • Semmelweis reflex

Suggested use in training

  • Present the bias to your learners and ask them to come up with examples from around them
  • Challenge your learners to report a situation where they were personally affected by Dunning-Kruger and acted in a biased manner