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Misinformation vs Disinformation – what’s the difference?

Rosie Loyd

Sunday, 27 March 2022

These two words have been cropping up in news stories over the past few weeks. In this article, Current Affairs Editor, Rosie Loyd, breaks them down to find out what the difference is, whilst considering potential causes and consequences.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February 2022, it reached headlines all over the world. The coverage of this event has been constant, but not all of it has been reliable. It’s not just war, however, that has sparked an increase in the spread of incorrect information – Covid-19, Black Lives Matter Protests, Presidential Elections, The Royals, and Natural Disasters are all other examples of major events instigating a major dissemination of information which is not always accurate.


The two words, ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ are increasingly becoming household terms. The colloquial phrase ‘fake news’ has been around for several years, and whilst not wholly different to the meaning of ‘dis-’ and ‘misinformation’, it more broadly signifies false and misleading news without indicating whether this was its original purpose.


Do not be confused with former US President Donald Trump’s unique interpretation of the phrase - he frequently coined the term for news he simply did not like. In one conference, Trump, pointing to a reporter, responded “you are fake news”.


The two words in question in this article, however, have a very subtle difference, primarily relating to the initial intention of the news spreader and the validity of the content.


Misinformation is the spread of false information, regardless of intent to mislead. Social media sites such as Facebook are constantly spammed with misinformation, with users sharing fake news stories, simply because they think them to be real.


Recently, whilst scrolling through TikTok, live video streams were supposedly depicting cities in Ukraine, when in fact, it was later found out that this was a video taken years before in a different country. By the time the videos were proven inaccurate, they had already gone viral.


Disinformation, on the other hand, is the deliberate spread of false information. It is often employed by governments in the shape of propaganda to protect their legitimacy, or by certain organisations to generate profit from the number of visits on a website.


A prime example of disinformation can be seen in the 2016 presidential election when Russia invoked bots on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, , to spread propaganda in favour of Donald Trump.


The consequence of such omnipresent deceit online is that news is becoming decreasingly trustworthy. With the rapid development of technology at an all-time high, this is a problem that is only going to grow.


The best way to make sure you continue to absorb accurate information is by relying on respected organisations and by checking their sources. If a story seems too good to be true, it most likely is.


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About the Author

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