Misinformation and April Fools' Day

This April Fools' Day, we describe the difference between misinformation and disinformation.

Arithmos Analytics

4/1/2022 2 min read

The saying goes "April Fools' Day is the one day of the year people critically assess news articles before accepting them as true". This would be a practise we would welcome becoming a year-round thing. In an age of misinformation, disinformation and "fake news", the potential for bad actors to deceive well- meaning people with carefully crafted lies is growing. Social media has allowed this to mushroom, and a single fake account could spread a life to thousands or even hundreds of thousands before being caught. Churchill once warned that lies can be halfway around the world before the truth even has its boots on. But whilst misinformation, disinformation and fake news are used interchangeably, they are distinct an different phenomena.

Disinformation is when a bad actor deliberately spreads something they know to be false. This could be something they manufactured themselves, such as a fake headline or piece of information. In an age of deep fake technology, it can even feature digitally edited videos of high-profile people such as presidents and celebrities appearing to give speeches with wildly out of character or alarmist claims. Alternatively, disinformation actors can pass along information they are not personally involved with creating, but which they spread knowing it is false anyway, given it lining up with their narrative. Disinformation can be linked to hostile state actors, who see the obvious advantage is sowing confusion in enemy nations, and undermining their population's trust in their own institutions and news outlets. This can be used to drive them towards news outlets linked closely to the hostile state actors as an alternative.

Misinformation is when fake information is spread and passed along, but critically, the individual or organization doing it does not realize that it is fake. An example would be a hostile player fabricates a claim and writes it on a meme jpeg format, making it visually appealing and noticeable in a newsfeed. Your elderly aunt sees this and is so outraged, scared or concerned about the claim made, that she retweets or shares the claim. In her mind, shaped when times were somewhat less cynical, you had a duty to share information with loved ones that you became aware of. In reality, your sweet old aunt may have shared information that is (in her mind) urgent and needs to be shared, but which is sadly totally untrue. This can have a mushroom effect, as other people believe that if Aunt Bessy thinks this is a thing, then it must be, so they share it too and help the lie Churchill warned us about getting halfway around the world.

Fake news is when a news outlet spreads misinformation and/or disinformation with the intent to shape a view of events in a certain, often partisan, direction. The term fake news has become something of an epithet in US politics, and much more sensitive and debatable as a term than the previous two. It is possible that news outlets can sometimes pass along misinformation unknowingly, and in an age when hitting the headlines as quickly as possible counts, fact checking sometimes is relegated in priority. There have been occasions when news outlets openly apologized for sharing misinformation. This is usually due to carelessness and over prioritizing speed over accuracy, not always due to malice. As for spreading disinformation, when the news outlet itself manufactures a claim, this tends to be an opinion based on the views of the person making the accusation.

We hope that armed with this information, you will be much better equipped to read your news feed this April Fools' Day and be more mentally alert and aware against misinformation, disinformation and fake news.

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