“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
Winston S. Churchill
T he Internet is undoubtedly a mine of valuable information. In addition to the good side of this tool, it is also a place full of junk information, gossips, and fake news. Audiences may often not realize that what they read is not true, but only a tool of disinformation? But what is it? What is the difference between misinformation, disinformation and malinformation? Why information disorder is a threat?
According to report on “Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking”, authors identified the three types of bad information (mis-, dis-, and malinformation), three phases (creation, (re)production, distribution), and three elements (agent, message, interpreter) to what we call information disorder.
Types of Information Disorder
The key steps are to distinguish messages that are true from those that are false but let’s start with understanding the type of information:
- Misinformation — information that is false, but not created with the intention of causing harm.
- Example of misinformation: (3)
In May 2019 journalists from various publications wrote that the World Health Organization (WHO) had recognized burnout as a medical diagnosis. Even CNN wrote about it. That news gained such momentum that the WHO had to issue an official explanation that burnout was in no way a medical diagnosis. The WHO records not only diagnoses but also various health conditions in a special classifier called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, commonly known as ICD-10 (the International Classifier of Diseases). Besides, the Ukrainian and French media emphasized that burnout had been included in the ICD for the first time. In fact, this was also false. The condition was recorded as affecting human life back in 2010.
- Disinformation — information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization or country.
Example of disinformation:(4)
Disinformation campaigns had been a standard tool during the Cold War and mentions of Russian disinformation would occasionally appear in the American press. In 1982, TV Guide, one of the most popular magazines in America at the time, even published a cover story warning about Russian disinformation. Recent research has indicated that the Soviet Union spread disinformation about America and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. A conspiracy theory that AIDS had been created in an American germ warfare lab was spread by the Soviet KGB, according to a 2018 NPR report.
- Malinformation — information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, organization or country.
Example of malinformation: (5)
One striking example of mal-information occurred when Emmanuel Macron’s emails were leaked the Friday before the run-off vote on 7 May. The information contained in the emails was real, although Macron’s campaign allegedly included false information to diminish the impact of any potential leak. However, by releasing private information into the public sphere minutes before the media blackout in France, the leak was designed to cause maximum harm to the Macron campaign.
According to First Draft’s report (6), the author argued there are seven distinct types of problematic content that sit within our information ecosystem (below):
We should remember that some of the content is being pushed out by: (7)
- loosely connected groups who are deliberately attempting to influence public opinion
- as part of sophisticated disinformation campaigns, through bot networks (8) and troll factories (9).
We must be aware of many types of bad information are designed to catch our attention, often by playing on our emotional responses. We are also important elements in this system, as we are used to spreading content even further through social media and word of mouth.
The Phases and Elements of Information Disorder
In trying to understand any example of information disorder, we should focus on the types of elements: (10)
- Agent — Who were the ‘agents’ that created, produced and distributed the example and what was their motivation?
- Message — What type of message was it? What format did it take? What were
- Interpreter — When the message was received by someone, how did they interpret the message? What action, if any, did they take?
Information disorder consists of three phases:
More information about phases and elements of information disorder you can find in the report — INFORMATION DISORDER: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking.
The most important message of this short article is that you will understand that there are phenomena such as disinformation, misinformation and malinformation. If you are not aware of the existence of manipulation and blurring of the truth in the media, then you will be a tool in the hands of agents.
Information disorders are primarily aimed at manipulating public opinion, society, destabilization of governments, incitement to racial and ethnic hatred and a decline in the value of companies and their reputation and also personal reputation (CEOs, statesmen, opinion leaders, etc.). We are only a tool in the hands of specific interest groups, often intelligence services.
1) Claire Wardle, PhD Hossein Derakhshan, INFORMATION DISORDER: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making, Council of Europe report DGI(2017)09
2) As above.
5) Cherilyn Ireton, Julie Posetti, Journalism, fake news & disinformation: handbook for journalism education and training, UNESCO 2018, p.47
6) Claire Wardle, Understanding Information Disorder, First Draft, October 2019
7) As above.
8) A botnet is a collection or network of bots that act in coordination and are typically operated by one person or group. Commercial botnets can include as many as tens of thousands of bots.(Source: Ignatova, T.V., V.A. Ivichev, V.A. & F.F. Khusnoiarov (December 2, 2015) Analysis of Blogs, Forums, and Social Networks, Problems of Economic Transition).
9) A troll farm is a group of individuals engaging in trolling or bot-like promotion of narratives in a coordinated fashion. (Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2017). Assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent US elections. Washington, D.C.: National Intelligence Council, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf).
10) Claire Wardle, PhD Hossein Derakhshan, INFORMATION DISORDER: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making, Council of Europe report DGI(2017)09