It is helpful to use academia or the UNHCR as sources for disinformation definitions since they are seen as authoritative sources, and this is easier than defining it during a discussion.
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center provides definitions for often confusing terms. Fake news gets thrown around, but it is not as helpful as the following specific terms.
- Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created or disseminated with the express purpose of causing harm. Disinformation producers typically have political, financial, psychological, or social motivations.
- Misinformation is information that is false but not intended to cause harm. For example, individuals who don’t know a piece of information is false may spread it on social media in an attempt to be helpful.
- Malinformation is genuine information that is shared to cause harm. This includes private or revealing information that is spread to harm a person or reputation.
- Propaganda is true or false information spread to persuade an audience, but it often has a political connotation and is often connected to government-generated information. It is worth noting that the lines between advertising, publicity, and propaganda are often unclear.
UNHCR has a global reach and their categories for disinformation and misinformation reflect a broader view of misleading content found around the world in the media and online.
- Fabricated Content: Completely false content.
- Manipulated Content: Genuine information and information that have been distorted, e.g., a sensational headline or populist “clickbait.”
- Imposter Content: Impersonation of a genuine account, e.g. using the branding of an existing agency.
- Misleading Content: Misleading information, e.g. a comment presented as fact.
- False Content: Factually accurate content combined with false contextual information, e.g. when the headline of the article does not reflect the content.
- Satire and Parody: Humorous but false stories passed as true. There is no intention to harm, but readers may be fooled.
- False Connections: When headlines, visuals, or captions do not support the content.
- Sponsored Content: Advertising or PR disguised as editorial content.
- Propoganda: Content used to manage attitudes, values, and knowledge.
- Error: A mistake by established news agencies in their reporting.