Making sense of misinformation part one: What is misinformation?

This is part one of a three-part series of Lynn PR Misinformation Cell mini-blogs about misinformation. If you’d like to learn more, why not join us for our upcoming webinar on the subject?

Do you remember the first time you heard the word ‘misinformation’? How about ‘fake news’? Or ‘disinformation’? If you don’t, you’re not alone.

The rise of misinformation in our society has been supercharged by what academics call information overload’, which means our brains are processing more information than they can handle, often leaving us in a state of overwhelm, making us more vulnerable to misinformation. So, if you sometimes find yourself thinking back to the political earthquakes of 2016 and feeling like the years since then have been a blur, it’s no accident. 

Making sense of this blur means asking simple questions that aren’t easy to answer: what is misinformation? Is it a new problem? What’s made it worse and what does that tell us about how we solve it?

Dictionary.com defines ‘misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead”. This means that lots of misinformation is spread by people with the intention to help and inform others. The danger is when disinformation narratives (false information spread with the intent to cause harm) seep into public discourse, and are then delivered on to our timelines and into our WhatsApp groups in the form of misinformation by well-meaning individuals. 

Just to add to the confusion, misinformation and disinformation are sometimes used interchangeably.

But where do we draw the line between false information and spin? The OECD finds that accusations of ‘fake news’ are levelled at four different types of information:

  • Outright false information 
  • Misapplied or misrepresented facts
  • Omission of information
  • Misleading editorial choices of what “should be” news

So, as with many things, misinformation is often in the eye of the beholder.

Keep your eyes peeled for part two in the ‘Making sense of misinformation’ series: ‘Why are people falling for misinformation?’. To find out more about how our anti-misinformation services can help your organisation, email contact@lynnpr.co.uk.

This article was written by Stefan Rollnick, Head of the Misinformation Cell at Lynn PR.