Jul 25, 2018

Misinformation vs Disinformation: What’s the difference?

Misinformation vs Disinformation: What’s the difference?

The phrase “Fake News” has become a widely understood phrase, indicating that a piece of content, whether tweet or news story or post, may contain a false narrative.

What started as an initiative to discredit media outlets covering news stories not in one party’s favor, has evolved. Fake news is so much more than just a false headline or sensationalized tweets, instead it can be a highly organized campaign designed to destroy a brand’s reputation and credibility.

These campaigns and damaging attacks, while still in the same eco system as fake news, are classified as misinformation and disinformation. If you’ve kept up with the news lately, you’ve seen how disinformation and misinformation has put brands like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Starbucks under fire.

What exactly is misinformation and disinformation, and how does it factor into how brands should be thinking about protecting their image and online communities?

What is misinformation and disinformation?

The relevance of misinformation and disinformation has shifted from being a government problem, to being a problem for every brand, business, and entity building a presence and community in the digital sphere.

Misinformation and disinformation are both, at their core, incorrect information. However, the motivation for sharing the content and the actors who share it are very different. Misinformation sometimes refers to an “honest mistake” — for example when an article written by a generally reputable media property includes an error and it spreads organically.

Disinformation, by contrast, is deliberately wrong and spread tactically. It is explicitly intended to cause confusion or to lead the target audience to believe a lie. Disinformation is a tactic in information warfare. For example, Russian bots created to spread falsities surrounding the 2016 US presidential election.

Disinformation in different scenarios

One of the most widely known examples of disinformation is Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

Through various investigations, it was discovered that connected groups organized efforts with the goal of intentionally swaying the election in one direction, and damaging Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. From there the groups leveraged social media bots to share strategically false narratives across the internet from multiple fake user accounts.

Through the use of bots and other means of targeted advertising, these organizations were able to create disinformation campaigns that extended deep into social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and various other channels. They were able to expand their reach and boost engagement due to collaborative efforts and connected accounts. It is estimated that over 126 million people saw election propaganda in 2016.

Disinformation extends beyond government though. Most recently Starbucks was in the press for an employee kicking two African American men out of their store. While the incident making headlines required crisis management and the scheduling of a mandatory employee training, the aftermath and the response from social media users are what put the brand at most risk.

What started as an internet troll, posting a fake coupon from Starbucks for a free cup coffee to any person of color, turned into newsworthy coverage that users both quickly shared and questioned if Starbucks was correctly handling the situation and how seriously they were taking the issue.

The coupon quickly spread from the new outlets covering it, across social media channels, and to end user ultimately going to redeem them. An instance like this shows the power that social media has to spread a false yet seemingly harmless post from one person and turn it into a viral piece of content in a matter of hours that can catch PR and crisis management teams off guard.

Is one more important than the other?

Misinformation and disinformation don’t discriminate and aren’t unique to specific industries, making them both equally important for brands to be aware of. Every brand runs the risk of being a victim of a one-off false Facebook posting making it into the mainstream or, on the more extreme end of the scale, a highly organized disinformation campaign targeted against a specific brand. This makes it now more so than ever, important for brands and businesses to understand the risk that both misinformation and disinformation could pose to their brand, and ultimately how to fight fake news.

To learn more about how to fight social media disinformation and how you can proactively monitor and protect your business and brand integrity from malicious disinformation campaigns, you can get in touch with us here.

Your brand reputation is priceless. We can protect it.

Reach out to learn more about how New Knowledge can keep your brand safe from damaging disinformation.