If the past three years have seemed more like 300, the coming year is really about to test us all. The countdown to the U.S. election is about to begin and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of global misinformation and disinformation — and it’s important to know the difference. Because they’re not the same thing.
Remember way back when we were still trying to get comfortable with calling a lie a “lie”? We’ve gotten better about telling it like it is — a lie is not an inaccuracy or spin or an exaggeration or a stretching the truth. It’s an intentionally false statement. You tell a lie with the intention of deceiving, and intent is everything when it comes to determining a false statement from a lie.
Same with misinformation and disinformation, which have two different meanings.
Misinformation is “incorrect or misleading information,” according to Merriam-Webster. This is the “spin” version of a lie. Whether or not there was intent, misinformation is incorrect or inaccurate information that causes people to be misinformed.
Disinformation is more sinister. It’s “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumours) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth,” Merriam-Webster says.
As we enter this next year of living among both the inaccurate and the all-out fake on social media and in the news, here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember the difference: Misinformation is misleading. Disinformation is a damn lie.