Cover: Fighting Disinformation Online

Fighting Disinformation Online

Building the Database of Web Tools

Published Feb 18, 2020

by Jennifer Kavanagh, Samantha Cherney, Hilary Reininger, Norah Griffin


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Today's information ecosystem brings access to seemingly infinite amounts of information instantaneously. It also contributes to the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation to millions of people. In response to this challenge and as part of the RAND Corporation's Truth Decay initiative, RAND researchers worked to identify and characterize the universe of online tools targeted at online disinformation, focusing on those tools created by nonprofit or civil society organizations. This report summarizes the data collected by the RAND team in 2018 and 2019 and serves as a companion to the already published web database. The report includes information on our inclusion and exclusion criteria, a discussion of methodology, a list of domains or characteristics that we coded for every tool (e.g., tool type, delivery platform), a summary of descriptive statistics that provides multiple different snapshots of both available tools and those in development, and a series of deep dives that describe each of the types of tools in the database and how each works to counter the disinformation challenge.

Key Findings

Each tool listed in the database aims to improve the online information ecosystem in some way

  • Tools were identified via web searches, articles that review tools and advances in this field, and discussions with experts (e.g., those involved in developing or funding tools).
  • Each entry is a tool that either is interactive or produces some product that consumers can use or apply to their own web browsing or information consumption.
  • This database is focused on tools developed by nonprofit and civil society organizations.
  • Each entry must be explicitly focused on online disinformation.
  • We focused on U.S.-based tools targeting the U.S. market.

Seven types of tools were identified; each tool in the database is classified into at least one category and up to two categories

  • Bot and spam detection tools are intended to identify automated accounts on social media platforms.
  • Codes and standards stem from the creation of a set of principles or processes for the production, sharing, or consumption of information that members must commit and adhere to in return for some outward sign of membership that can be recognized by others.
  • Credibility scoring tools attach a rating or grade to individual sources based on their accuracy, quality, or trustworthiness.
  • Disinformation tracking tools study the flow and prevalence of disinformation, either tracking specific pieces of disinformation and their spread over time or measuring or reporting the level of fake or misleading news on a particular platform.
  • Education and training tools are any courses, games, and activities aimed to combat disinformation by teaching individuals new skills or concepts.
  • Verification tools aim to ascertain the accuracy of information and tools that work to authenticate photos, images, and other information.
  • Whitelists create trusted lists of web addresses or websites to distinguish between trusted users or trusted sites and ones that might be fake or malicious.


  • Although it is not possible to do so in all cases, tools profiled in this database should be rigorously evaluated using assessments based on randomized control trials and longitudinal analysis when possible. Such assessments can guide future investments and improvements to existing tools.
  • A second productive set of investments might focus on supporting the ability of existing tools to reach and serve larger audiences by focusing on expanding both delivery methods and awareness of existing tools. Furthermore, commitment to automation would allow most tools to support a large user base more easily.

Research conducted by

This research was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. All users of the publication are permitted to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.