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Misinformation and Disinformation

This guide explains the difference between mis-and disinformation and gives some tips for recognizing them.

What Are They?

We just had a snowstorm. You wake up early to check Twitter and read that classes are cancelled.

Yellow sign showing the word "oops"


You tell your friends and you all go out to enjoy the snow. Unfortunately, only morning classes were cancelled and one of your friends was marked absent from their afternoon class. You didn't mean to give your friend bad information, you just misread the announcement. You have given your friend misinformation.



Person with fingers crossed behind their back

Same scenario - only this time you don't actually like that "friend." You tell them classes are cancelled, knowing they have an afternoon class and that they will miss it. You intentionally deceive that person so that they will miss their class. You have given them disinformation.




The difference is in the intent.

Why Does Intent Matter?

There are different types of people who share incorrect information. Broadly speaking, there are:

  • Unintentional sharers (spreading misinformation)
  • Intentional / malicious sharers or creators (spreading disinformation)


Misinformation sharers:

  • spread incorrect information unintentionally
  • may have made a mistake, misheard, or misremembered, or just not fact-checked a claim but feel that it "sounds right," etc.
  • are not trying to "trick" anyone
  • share the incorrect information because they believe it is true and that they are doing a good thing by telling others


Disinformation sharers:

  • intentionally spread content that they know isn't true
  • could have any number of reasons for doing it - examples of reasons might be:
    • to make money off of advertising (getting people to click on an outrageous claim)
    • to advance governmental / political / social / business / etc. interests (making false claims about a government body or institution, rival political opponent, social group, or business to make their own "side" look better, advance their own causes or interests, or manipulate public opinion)
    • to cause confusion or prevent people from taking an action (an abundance of conflicting information confuses people - this may make people hesitate to act at all)
    • ...or any number of other reasons