Nowadays, you can encounter incorrect information on a daily basis, Source: Unsplash

The different types of misleading information you may run into

The different types of misleading information you may run into

How to orientate yourself in the diversity of tricky facts

In the post-truth era that we are living, the news flow reaching us is constantly and rapidly changing. Most of the time, the news is packaged to look like a flashy product, but if you try to delve deep into its core, you would probably see that the information is designed with the intention to deceive and mislead its readers.

The rapid proliferation of information through social media is now the norm. Many people define misleading information with the term “fake news”, but it is important to recognize the difference between the variety of information categories. The ability to distinguish between real facts, rumours, propaganda, conspiracy theories or opinions can improve the ability to take the right decisions in life. The influence of such news can have profound socio-political and cultural effects when translated into action.

The 3 Main types of incorrect info

Nowadays, media professionals differentiate and categorize misleading information into three categories that go beyond the generic “fake news” term. Here’s what distinguishes them:

  • Misinformation is inaccurate information that could mislead people whether it results from an honest mistake, negligence, or unconscious bias. Misinformation can be found in media, social media, propaganda and conspiracy theories or in the political use of sensitive information.
    For example, although many conspiracy theories might sound naive, they have the potential to cause harm both to the individual and the community, and a good case in point is the anti-vaccine movement. Other examples could be the flat-Earth conspiracy, the fake landing on the Moon or speculations about the terrorist 9/11 attacks in the USA.
  • Disinformation, on the other hand, is deliberately deceptive information. The intentions behind such deception may be socio-politically motivated or personally motivated. In order to disinform, you have to intend to deceive someone or a group in particular. Disinformation can be found in fake reviews, misleading representation in maps and graphics, clickbait, echo chambers, imposter websites, sometimes even in satire, and also in propaganda and conspiracy theories.
    As an example: The so-called Deep Fakes are a type of synthetic media where a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else's likeness. Powerful AI techniques manipulate or generate visual and audio content with a high potential to deceive. A concrete example of this could be Queen Elizabeth's 2020 Christmas speech mixed with popular dance. This deep fake video was manipulated using artificial intelligence technology. Another example could be the share of disinformation which exceeded the popularity of real news during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
  • Malinformation, on the other hand, is genuine information that is shared to cause harm. This potentially damaging info is based on reality, but can be used to inflict harm on a person, organisation or country by presenting it in a biased and selective way. Malinformation could be found in phishing, misuse of personal or/and confidential information, echo chambers or political use of sensitive information.
    A malinformation example was the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal that involved data collection that influenced the U.S. Presidential Election results in 2016. The unprecedented data breach involved a harvest of private information from over 50 million Facebook profiles.
    As a consequence, the consultant to Trump’s presidential campaign, Steve Bannon, used improperly obtained data from Facebook to build thousands of voter profiles that were supposed to look like real people managed them. 

The above shows that information refers to the transmission of certain knowledge from a source to an audience and the classification reminds us that although factuality is an important factor in the quality of information, there are other factors that can influence and harm perception, even in cases when the info is verifiable.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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