According to a study commissioned by the Council of Europe and published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, there are three different types of fake news: misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.
- Misinformation is when there is an unintentional mistake, such as the poor use of statistics or quotes, or when an old image resurfaces.
- Disinformation is when false or manipulated information or imagery is deliberately used to do harm to someone. The Facebook ads created by Russia and targeted at American voters during the U.S. presidential election would be an example of this.
- Malinformation is when genuine information is used to cause harm to someone; for example revenge porn.
Rumors, conspiracy theories, and fabricated information are nothing new. As Sun Tzu explained 25 centuries ago, “all warfare is based on deception.” False information has become a part of our daily lives, whether it is individuals lying to save face or prevent hurt feelings, politicians making unrealistic promises during election campaigns, or the media disseminating misleading stories to gain a wider audience. That said, social media has added an entirely new dimension to the phenomenon.
There are two new and unique aspects of social media which have changed the game: Firstly, disinformation can be cheaply amplified through committed volunteers, paid agents or robots. Secondly, our information sources are becoming increasingly social, and therefore much more visual, emotional, and performative. And, as trust in institutions decreases, people are turning to their closest networks of family and friends for information. This has created a perfect environment for the spread of disinformation around the world. Ultimately, it is only logic and critical thinking which could save the world from the trap of manipulation.