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

False authority fallacy

The false authority fallacy occurs when someone appeals to an individual's or organization'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.

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

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 polarize opinions.

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

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.

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Video by Martymer 81 | Used under Creative Commons license

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.

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Video by Above The Noise| Used under Creative Commons license

Slippery slope fallacy

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. This fallacy suggests that if one event happens, a chain reaction of harmful or undesirable outcomes will inevitably follow, without considering alternative possibilities or mitigating factors.

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Video by Colburn Classroom | Used under Creative Commons license

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

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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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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What does it look like?

"Dr. Smith, a renowned scientist, stated, 'Vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent."

Here's how the false attribution fallacy relates to disinformation:

  • Creating false authority falsely attributes information or claims to trusted or authoritative sources to give them credibility and induce the audience into believing their narrative.
  • Impersonating credible sources involves creating fake social media accounts, websites, or news outlets that mimic legitimate sources and thus present these as reputable sources of information.
  • Misquoting or distorting statements may involve selectively quoting or misrepresenting statements made by legitimate sources to support a particular narrative.
  • Using anonymous or pseudonymous sources to which false information is attributed so as to avoid scrutiny and accountability for the accuracy of their claims.
  • Exploiting public trust by taking advantage of people's trust in familiar names or authoritative figures in an attempt to exploit the public's pre-existing trust and credibility in those sources.

What does it look like?

"As the famous fitness influencer Michelle Lewin acknowleges, this herbal tea can cure COVID-19."

Here is how the false authority fallacy relates to disinformation:

  • Exploiting perceived expertise by presenting false or unqualified individuals as experts in a particular field.
  • Misrepresenting credentials involves attributing claims to individuals with misrepresented or fabricated credentials by falsely presenting them as qualified experts or authorities.
  • Impersonating trusted sources by creating fake accounts, websites, or publications that mimic legitimate sources of authority.
  • Leveraging celebrity influence which exploits the influence of celebrities or well-known figures by attributing false claims to them.
  • Manipulating public trust by utilizing people's tendency to trust authoritative figures or experts.

What does it look like?

"You must either support unrestricted surveillance or be in favor of aiding terrorists."

Here is how the false dilemma fallacy relates to disinformation:

  • Limiting choices by offering only two extreme or polarized options, ignoring nuanced perspectives or alternative solutions.
  • Distorting complexity by oversimplifying complex issues and presenting them as a binary choice, disregarding the multiple factors and nuances involved in an attempt to steer people towards a predetermined conclusion or bias.
  • Creating false dichotomies which seek to polarize public discourse and divide communities by falsely asserting that only two opposing positions exist when, in reality, a broader range of possibilities or viewpoints is available.
  • Ignoring middle ground or compromise solutions and force individuals to align with one extreme viewpoint or the other.
  • Manipulating emotional responses by framing a situation as a dire choice between two extremes, is used to evoke emotional responses, often exploiting fear or outrage.

What does it look like?

"Violent video games are the singular cause of increased youth aggression."

How is the fallacy of the single cause connected with disinformation:

  • Oversimplifying complex issues by presenting a single factor or entity as the sole cause of a complex problem, disregarding the multifaceted nature of the issue.
  • Ignoring contributing factors which distort reality and mislead individuals by disregarding other factors or variables that may influence a situation.
  • Promoting conspiracy theories where a single entity or group is falsely attributed as the root cause of various societal or global problems.
  • Amplifying biases and prejudices by presenting a single group or factor as the cause of societal issues, exploits preconceived notions and fuels divisions among different communities or demographics.
  • Overshadowing systemic issues by diverting attention from underlying systemic issues that contribute to a problem.

What does it look like?

" By restricting our rights, the government treats the unvaccinated as criminals."

How the false equivalence fallacy pertains to disinformation:

  • Creating a false sense of balance by presenting opposing viewpoints as equally credible, regardless of the actual evidence supporting each side.
  • Distorting the weight of evidence can be used to downplay or dismiss well-established scientific or factual information by treating it as on par with discredited or baseless claims.
  • Misrepresenting expert consensus by highlighting the minority opinion of a few dissenting experts while ignoring the overwhelming consensus among the broader scientific or professional community.
  • Amplifying fringe perspectives by promoting extreme or fringe viewpoints and treating them as legitimate alternatives to mainstream understanding or consensus.
  • Confusing the audience by presenting opposing arguments as equally valid without providing clear guidance on which perspective is supported by evidence or expert consensus.

What does it look like?

"If we take steps to reduce carbon emissions, it will lead to an enormous loss of jobs and economic collapse."

The slippery slope fallacy relates to disinformation in several trajectories:

  • Amplifying fear and alarm by presenting a chain of exaggerated and unsubstantiated consequences, it stokes fear and alarm, claiming that a particular action, policy, or event will lead to catastrophic or irreversible outcomes.
  • Exaggerating the impact of a specific event or decision, suggesting that it will have far-reaching and extreme consequences.
  • Oversimplifying complex issues by reducing intricate problems into a linear chain of cause and effect.
  • Discouraging critical thinking by presenting a seemingly logical progression of consequences without substantiating the causal links.
  • Promoting resistance to societal or policy changes by suggesting that any modification or adaptation will lead to a dangerous or detrimental path of negative outcomes.

What does it look like?

"Having in mind the number of trees cut for producing a single paper bag, it is obvious that the environmental impact of using paper bags is worse than that of plastic bags ."

Here is how the incomplete comparison fallacy relates to disinformation:

  • Cherry-picking data is expressed by selectively choosing data or information that supports the narrative while omitting crucial context or opposing evidence.
  • Misleading analogies utilize incomplete comparisons by making analogies that misrepresent or oversimplify complex issues.
  • Ignoring key factors occurs when important variables or factors that significantly impact a situation are disregarded.
  • Oversimplification of complex issues by providing simplistic or superficial comparisons that fail to capture the complexity of a topic.
  • Manipulating emotions and biases by presenting selective information that supports preconceived notions or triggers emotional responses.

What does it look like?

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Circular reasoning fallacy:

  • Reinforcing unfounded beliefs: Disinformation campaigns can employ circular reasoning by using the claim itself as evidence to support the claim. By circularly referencing the same unsupported information without external verification, disinformation perpetuates false beliefs and creates an illusion of validity.
  • Creating an echo chamber effect: Circular reasoning can contribute to an echo chamber effect, where individuals only encounter information that supports their existing beliefs. Disinformation campaigns exploit this fallacy by circulating claims within closed networks, reinforcing preconceived notions without external scrutiny or critical evaluation.
  • Discouraging independent inquiry: Circular reasoning discourages individuals from questioning or seeking independent evidence. Disinformation leverages this fallacy to dissuade critical thinking and promote passive acceptance of claims without encouraging individuals to explore alternative perspectives or evaluate the validity of the information.
  • Generating a false sense of certainty: Circular reasoning can create a false sense of certainty by presenting the claim as self-evident and self-referential, without external validation. Disinformation campaigns exploit this fallacy to instill confidence in the claim, making it harder for individuals to question or critically evaluate the information presented.
  • Maintaining a closed information loop: Circular reasoning can contribute to the maintenance of a closed information loop, where disinformation is circulated and reinforced within specific networks or platforms. This fallacy reinforces existing biases and inhibits exposure to diverse viewpoints, limiting individuals' ability to critically assess the accuracy and validity of the information.

What does it look like?

"It is obvious that extraterrestrial life exists - no one has definitively proven otherwise."

Appeal to ignorance fallacy:

  • Leveraging uncertainty: Disinformation campaigns often capitalize on areas of uncertainty or lack of conclusive evidence to make assertions or promote false narratives. By arguing that something is true simply because it has not been proven false or vice versa, disinformation manipulates the appeal to ignorance fallacy to mislead people into accepting unsupported claims.
  • Exploiting confirmation bias: The appeal to ignorance fallacy can be used to exploit confirmation bias, where individuals are more likely to accept information that aligns with their existing beliefs. Disinformation campaigns leverage this bias by presenting unverified or unsubstantiated claims as valid options when there is insufficient evidence to support or refute them.
  • Shifting the burden of proof: Disinformation may employ the appeal to ignorance fallacy by shifting the burden of proof onto skeptics or those challenging the claims. By asserting that their claims are true until proven false, disinformation campaigns evade the responsibility of providing evidence or logical reasoning to support their assertions.
  • Promoting conspiracy theories: The appeal to ignorance fallacy is often used in disinformation to propagate conspiracy theories. By suggesting that lack of evidence or gaps in knowledge are evidence of a hidden truth or elaborate cover-up, disinformation campaigns exploit the appeal to ignorance to manipulate public perception and promote alternative narratives.
  • Discouraging critical thinking: Disinformation exploits the appeal to ignorance fallacy to discourage critical thinking and foster acceptance of unsupported claims. By creating an illusion that the absence of evidence is proof of something, disinformation campaigns aim to dissuade individuals from questioning or seeking independent verification.

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