Publication Date: August 2018
Publisher: Data&Society
Research and Editorial Team: Caroline Jack

Keeping in mind that reality may be more complicated than “ideal types”, the authors lay down some definitions.

Both misinformation and disinformation are inaccurate, false or misleading, and both spread readily via social media. The difference is that misinformation in unintentionally inaccurate (because of an error, misinterpretation or lack of verification), while disinformation is deliberate. However, the intention is often unclear or ambiguous, so something may be labelled as misinformation because of lacking proofs of deliberation. Disinformation actors may exploit this and pass themselves as simple actors of misinformation.

Information campaigns aim to reach large groups of people through organised communicative activities. Information operations are campaigns by unidentified sources. They may involve accurate information, misinformation, disinformation, or a mix of all three. They may be labelled as publicity or propaganda. The term propaganda has a negative connotation since it was used in the name of a Nazi ministry. It usually implies a deliberate intent to manipulate or deceive. On the other hand advertising, public relations, and public diplomacy are considered neutral terms. It is however not always easy to distinguish them. Agitprop is a propaganda campaign designed to provoke the audience to take a particular action. The term is associated with Marxist thought. Propaganda may be white (if it uses accurate information and sources), black (inaccurate or deceptive information), or grey (a mix of the previous two). The term propaganda can be used also for actions by private actors, not only for those by governmental actors and political parties.

Some information campaigns do not intend to convince people of something but to spread uncertainty or derail debate, with the result of sowing distrust in the media. These campaigns have sometimes been called gaslighting, a term that has recently been adapted from  psychological to political contexts. It refers to deception and inaccurate narration used to make the victim stops trusting their own judgements and perceptions.

Dezinformatsiya was used in the Soviet Union to refer to the state efforts to disseminate false or misleading information to the media. In China xuanchuan refers to the strategy of flooding conversational spaces with positive messages or attempts to change the subject. These terms carry strong cultural associations and should be used with care.

Satire, parody and culture jamming serve as a critique of wrongdoings, public figures, corporations, etc. by using exaggeration, irony, and absurdity. Their creators expect the audience to understand they are jokes, while the creator of a hoax wants to deceive. Sometimes it is difficult to understand if some content is serious of satirical. Moreover, the claim that something was satire or a joke can be used be used afterwards to defend from criticism.

Tags: Fake news and disinformation Russia Asia Americas

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