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Defining Disinformation, Misinformation and Fake News

Updated: Feb 8

We are living in an increasingly digital world. Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence gather and analyze data and influence how we live our lives, from what tv shows we are presented with to targeted advertising, social media filtering and more. This changing informational landscape presents people with many opportunities to access new services and knowledge, but also comes with potentially negative consequences – disinformation.

Disinformation blurs the fine line between facts and opinions and is spread online by sharing content through communities and networks. A classic example is the spread of disinformation regarding COVID-19 such as articles stating that Covid-19 was caused by 5G masts. An MIT study shows that falsehoods diffuse faster on Twitter than regular or factual content which makes it difficult for citizens to decipher what is accurate or not. As a result disinformation has high damaging potential to influence peoples perceptions of reality, break down trust in institutions and threaten democracy.

Disinformation versus Misinformation

Disinformation in the digital context is a complex concept, there is not one type of agreed disinformation, rather it refers to several issues. For example, disinformation may refer to online manipulation, misinformation or fake news. These different connotations lead to different interpretations. Manipulation in the digital context has been defined as “the use of information technology to covertly influence another person’s decision-making, by targeting and exploiting their decision-making vulnerabilities”. Furthermore, fake news has been defined as a “deliberate creation of pseudojournalistic disinformation .

Similarly, the term misinformation and disinformation is often used in similar contexts but with different meanings. Disinformation is defined in EU guidelines as “verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented, and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public. It can cause public harm” while in the same report misinformationis defined as “verifiably false information that is spread without the intention to mislead, and often shared because the users believes it to be true”, the latter shows no purpose or intention. These definitions share a common idea, which is mostly to mislead people through false information, but the intentionality or motive is what distinguishes them. In this line, misinformation refers to inadvertently sharing false information.

Fake News

The growing problem of disinformation also brings new conflicts. One of the most famous terms today is the so called ‘fake news’ defined as “deliberate creation of pseudojournalistic disinformation”, used to delegitimize journalism mainly by political actors, particularly if it contradicts their claims. However in this project we focus on the definition of disinformation, as the intention to confuse or manipulate the public. This term brings to light a prominent issue in current digital societies: the fine line to distinguish between facts and beliefs. Citizens not only do not trust the media, but increasingly consider scientific proven concepts as lies, such as climate change or that the earth is round.

In summary, definitions for discussing disinformation are more complex than appears at first sight. TITAN is currently working with the EC and related projects to create a Disinformation Glossary to provide a common language for us to use whilst working together to tackle the challenges posed by disinformation. To receive copy of the forthcoming report please joining TITAN's mailing list by completing the form in our website footer.

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