Both misinformation and disinformation describe information that isn't correct. But they're not the same concept at all — one refers to a mistake, and the other refers to a lie. Equip yourself against fake facts with these examples of misinformation vs. disinformation.
What separates misinformation and disinformation is the author’s intent and whether they know that the information is false.
- misinformation - bad information that you thought was true
- disinformation - bad information that you knew wasn't true
If you tell someone to cancel their party because you think it will rain, but then it doesn't rain, that's misinformation. If you tell someone to cancel their party because it's going to rain even though you know it won't, that's disinformation.
Misinformation comes from the Latin root mis-, which means "wrong." Think of the word mistake when you think of misinformation. The person who sent it was wrong, but they made a mistake — they thought it was right.
A lot of misinformation takes place through rumors. In the 21st century, rumors can take the form of fake news that spreads quickly on social media. When you hear or read a rumor that sounds true enough, you might send it along without double-checking if it's real.
Examples of spreading misinformation through rumors include:
- hearing something about a neighbor and telling the other neighbors without verifying the information
- reposting a negative campaign ad about a political candidate without checking if it's true
- telling a teacher that a classmate cheated on a test because you heard people talking about it in the hallway
- reading about an unproven cure to a disease and telling your friends about it
- spreading gossip about a friend that sounds like it could be true but isn't
When someone only hears a bit of the information, they can jump to conclusions (also known as making a hasty generalization). The information they heard isn't false, but the way they're conveying it certainly is.
Some examples of misinformation spread in this way include:
- reading only the headline for an article and forming an opinion without reading the rest of the article
- not going to a restaurant because a friend had a bad experience there
- hearing the first few minutes of a news story and repeating it to others
- forming an argument after reading only one article on a topic
- assuming that a person committed a crime based on one person's account
A key step in analyzing information is checking for reliable sources, which should always be unbiased and fact-based. Misinformation can occur when you think a source is reliable, but it's actually misleading.
You can accidentally spread misinformation by:
- quoting a news source that is biased against certain groups
- reposting an article without noticing that the person who wrote it is biased
- reading only sources that you agree with so you can't tell that they're unreliable
- trusting the opinions of people who reflect your opinion rather than experts in the field
- disregarding the intent of the person who wrote an explosive online article
The Latin prefix dis- means "not" or "away from," which is a perfect way to describe disinformation. Disinformation is a form of propaganda designed to trick its readers into believing something that isn't true. Remember the word dishonest when you think of disinformation.
While those who unwittingly spread rumors are providing misinformation, those who start the rumors (or spread them with malicious intent) are guilty of providing disinformation. Whether the rumor takes place on the playground or on the internet, if you know it's not true and you say it anyway, it's disinformation.
For example, you can spread disinformation by:
- making up something negative about your neighbor because you hate them
- editing a photograph or video of a political candidate and pretending it's real (known as a deepfake)
- telling the teacher that you saw a classmate cheating because you want the highest grade in the class
- falsifying studies or articles that make claims about a cure to a disease
- spreading an embarrassing rumor about a friend because you're mad at them
One way that disinformation spreads is by withholding relevant details. Reading information like this can result in a reader or listener jumping to conclusions — which is exactly what the writer wants.
Some ways leaving out details can spread disinformation include:
- writing an inflammatory and misleading headline, knowing that most readers won't actually read the article
- making a restaurant sound bad by not including the positive elements of a night out and only complaining about what went wrong
- telling others about a news story but leaving out important details that might change their minds
- ignoring 10 articles that prove your theory wrong and reposting the one article that agrees with you
- lying or largely exaggerating to the police about another person's alleged crime
People who spread disinformation are counting on their followers to believe them without thinking too much about it. Using sources that they know are bad is another way to deliberately mislead people into spreading incorrect information.
You may be spreading disinformation in this way by:
- pretending that a biased news source is actually mainstream and unbiased
- rewriting an inflammatory article without mentioning that the original author is a member of a hate group
- using one bad source to back up another bad source
- acting like someone is more reliable than actual experts when you know they're not
- posting an image that is clearly manipulated but acting like it's not
These days, it's more important than ever to use your critical thinking skills. The ability to tell truth from lies and fact from opinion can be the difference between believing anything you hear and thinking for yourself. Want to become even more astute? Learn these different logical fallacies to better recognize when someone is trying to fool you into believing them.