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Misinformation vs Disinformation: What’s the difference?

Mar 7, 2019


The battle to protect information integrity and expose fake news has added a few words to everyone’s lexicon. Here are two we know you have heard many times. While they sound similar, they have a subtle yet essential difference.

Similar, Yes. But Not the Same.

Both disinformation and misinformation contribute to fake news, and both pose a risk to brands and their audiences. However, the major difference between the two lies in intent.

Disinformation carries with it the deliberate intent to spread information known to be incorrect — usually in an effort to discredit a brand, a state agency, or a belief. In contrast, the sender of misinformation may not know the information is inaccurate. Every brand runs the risk of being a victim of a one-off false tweet making it into the mainstream or, on the more extreme end of the scale, a highly organized disinformation campaign targeted against a specific brand.

Disinformation: (noun) False information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.

Misinformation: (noun) Incorrect or misleading information inadvertently sent in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.

Example of Disinformation

One of the most recent examples of disinformation, surrounds Nike’s controversial choice to feature NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a fall 2018 ad campaign. The ad sparked a strong and immediate response from supporters and detractors on social media, as the NFL quarterback had become a figure of controversy by repeatedly kneeling during the performance of the national anthem before games as a way to raise awareness about police brutality, social injustice and systemic racism.

While this PR issue ensued, ideologically driven trolls unleashed a hoax against Nike on the web forums 4chan and 8chan. Users posted fake coupons offering 75% off for the company’s products for “people of color.”

In this case hoaxers built a campaign on a perceived Achilles heel: a pre-existing public relations scandal. What makes it disinformation is the coupon, which was generated by the hoaxers — not Nike — and deliberately sent across social media platforms. The combined effect of both initiatives juxtaposes race, the brand name, and controversy, as a means to intentionally undermine the brand.