Did you know that there is a difference between misinformation and disinformation? I didn’t until relatively recently.
These are the definitions according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
Information: 1) Knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction.
2) Intelligence, news.
3) Facts, data.
Misinformation: Incorrect or misleading information.
Disinformation: False information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.
I think this is an important distinction. Information is supposed to be factual, to be true. Disinformation is false. It is a lie or a set of lies. Whoever is creating these lies is doing so for a purpose. Why would someone want to influence public opinion or obscure the truth? Could it be for personal, professional, political, or financial gain?
Unfortunately, people often believe these lies. And they spread them. This is misinformation. Why would someone spread information without first checking to see if it is accurate or not? Could it be that by doing so they are gaining something as well?
Disinformation and misinformation can be seen in many settings. It could be an employee creating and spreading rumors about a co-worker to discredit her. As a manager, it would be important to substantiate whether the rumors are true or not before taking action against the employee.
And, of course, this can be seen on a much larger scale. For example, people have created a great deal of disinformation about the pandemic and vaccines. Why? What have they gained, or what do they hope to gain, from it? Other people believe the lies and spread them. Why?
I encourage you to think about how you evaluate information, in all settings. Do you blindly believe whatever you hear and read? Or do you think about it? Do you look at the situation objectively? Do you assess the information for accuracy?
An important consideration when you are assessing information is to consider the source. Do you know the person? Are they credible? Where did they get their information? Is that source credible? Why would these people be saying this? What do they have to gain? What might be their motivation?
Something that I find suspicious is when someone shouts or yells. Why? If it’s someone on television, the radio, or a podcast, it’s not so that their audience can hear them—all the audience has to do is turn up the volume on their device. If the speaker has facts, why not calmly state the facts? Why shout? Maybe it’s because they are passionate about what they are saying. I can’t help but wonder, though, if shouting is a form of manipulation. Do they think people will believe whoever is loudest, regardless of what they say? Do they think that by manipulating the audience’s emotions, by making them afraid, angry, mistrustful, etc., the audience won’t think as clearly and be more likely to believe their disinformation?
Another consideration is to get information from a variety of sources with a variety of views. If you only get your information from one source, it’s important to question why that source is telling you what they are, rather than telling you anything else.
And, of course, it is necessary to keep an open mind. (It’s okay, your brain won’t fall out!)
I think it’s important that we all try very hard not to fall victim to disinformation and misinformation. It’s easy to believe what we want to believe about people and situations, but that does not mean that it is true, that it is factual information.
Remember the computer adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” That applies to our brains, too. We can’t make good decisions with inaccurate information.
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