North Texas Daily

What separates disinformation from misinformation?

What separates disinformation from misinformation?

What separates disinformation from misinformation?
November 19
12:00 2020

The North Texas Daily is no stranger to talking about media literacy and understanding the information you’re consuming on social media. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing debate about the legitimacy of the U.S. presidential election, now more than ever are we seeing the spread of two types of information: misinformation and disinformation.

Like a virus, wrong information can spread rapidly and uncontrollably, thus creating an “infodemic.” While misinformation and disinformation may seem interchangeable, what separates them is intent.

Misinformation, according to its dictionary definition, is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” Misinformation doesn’t care about intent, simply being a blanket term for any kind of wrong or false information. Early pandemic stories of dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice weren’t true but were spread like wildfire on social media. Just recently, UNT twitter ran afoul of misinformation after a tweet claimed that three kangaroos were let loose on campus.

On the opposite spectrum, disinformation is “deliberately misleading or biased information.” Disinformation is knowingly spreading misinformation. For example, if you knew the UNT kangaroos were fake but supplied false information or photos to people, you are supplying disinformation. Foreign powers acting in hostile political subversion is a major reason for spreading disinformation but there are many other nefarious motives behind the creation of disinformation.

Disinformation is a very powerful tool and is very hard to investigate for journalists. While Trump and other politicians can lie about something, it’s difficult for a journalist to straight-up call them out for spreading disinformation. This is because you can never be 100 percent clear on the intent behind the misinformation, and you can open yourself up to a libel suit if you wrongfully call someone a liar.

Disinformation and misinformation have a way of becoming sticky because they tap into emotions, drive outrage and often become the popular consensus among the general public. It can spread far and wide, and corrections can’t catch up because people rarely go back to the original story.

Here some simple ways to spot misinformation on your timeline.

First, consider the source. Who’s posting it, what’s the mission of the account or outlet posting the claim. Is the poster a credible source? Are they even real? If they have an anime character as their profile picture, maybe they’re not the most trusted source of information. What’s the date of the source? Reposting old news doesn’t make it relevant to current events. Never believe what you hear right away. If you don’t have time to verify, don’t share it.

Be cognizant of your own biases as well. Implicit biases are the beliefs or attitudes we have that impact the decisions we make. Understanding that you process news or information differently based on your own personal bias is a key component of critical thinking and media literacy skills.

Being media literate is one of the biggest conversations we can have in our modern age, and we’ve talked about its importance before. Media impacts every aspect of our lives, affecting how we relate to, learn about and interact with the people around us. With such an incredible impact on our daily lives, the ability to navigate, verify and trust information is vital.

Featured Illustration by Austin Banzon

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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