UNIT 4. DISINFORMATION AND MANIPULATION
Part А: What is Disinformation?
Some information in the media might be created with the intention to harm, mislead, or just to have fun. Learn to distinguish between different types of manipulative content in your information environment.
BY EDERA & IREX
Types of
Information Disorder
Attention Hacking
Today we are exposed to more information in one day than people in the 15th century did in their lifetime. For example, just one century ago, a person would read as many as fifty books in their entire life.

Researcher Martin Hilbert explains that in 1986, people received as much information as would fit in 40 newspapers. In 2007, however, due to the Internet and increased reach of broadcast television, we received several times more, with each person consuming information that fit in 174 newspapers per day.

Every day, we receive hundreds of messages, consume and often share content that interests us or catches our attention. However, we face manipulation, both deliberate and unintentional, both online and offline. Our goal is to learn how to distinguish high-quality content from that which may be misleading or manipulative. For example, leading headlines or "clickbait", fake experts' judgments, paid or "hidden" advertising, and more. False information is so widely spread, that "misinformation" became Dictionary.com's word of the year in 2018.

As with any global system, the information space is polluted—huge quantities of poor-quality content invadeour personal information ecosystem, clouds our ability to see and constructively communicate with one another, destabilizes and polarizes society, and harms the global community.
The purpose of the news media should be to inform. All journalistic content should be fact-checked to verify the truthfulness of the information presented. One of the key principles in journalism, according to the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics is to verify information using several sources. However, journalists do not always stick to this rule. Sometimes the pressure on journalists to publish quickly or perhaps a lack of training or understanding can lead authors to cut corners, often at the expense of thorough verification. Some of these unverified pieces are created intentionally, while others may simply be due to lack of professional competence or unfamiliarity with the Journalists' Code of Ethics. At times, the purpose of such content may simply be to drive website traffic and to provoke a discussion or conflict in the comment section. Such comments are used to mould public opinion on social media, i.e. the attitude of people toward a certain event, person, or country.

The ability to recognize and process false or inaccurate information is an important skill in the twenty-first century. Let's learn how to become media and information savvy and withstand the overwhelming amount of information that is competing for our attention.

There are three types of manipulative content in the information environment.

Misinformation is erroneous or false information that is spread, without the intent to mislead (like journalists' mistakes, rumors, and gossip). No matter the intention behind it, people often believe such information and spread it.
For example, in May 2019 journalists from various publications wrote that the World Health Organization (WHO) had recognized burnout as a medical diagnosis. Even CNN wrote about it. That news gained such momentum that the WHO had to issue an official explanation that burnout was in no way a medical diagnosis. The WHO records not only diagnoses but also various health conditions in a special classifier called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, commonly known as ICD-10 (the International Classifier of Diseases). Besides, the Ukrainian and French media emphasized that burnout had been included in the ICD for the first time. In fact, this was also false. The condition was recorded as affecting human life back in 2010.
Disinformation is also false information, but it is deliberately designed to harm a person, social group, organization, or country, or just to have fun.

When people spread misinformation, they often believe in what they are spreading. Disinformation, on the contrary, is created and spread in order to intentionally mislead others. Disinformation can often become misinformation, it all depends on who shares it and why. For example, if a politician strategically spreads false information in the form of articles, photos, memes, etc., it is disinformation. When a person seeing this disinformation believes it and shares it without realizing it is false, it become misinformation.

A lot of disinformation is based on half-truth, where lies are mixed with part of some truthful information. This is done to give greater credibility to the false information. Such disinformation reports often cite "witnesses" or "research" that may be entirely faked. Disinformation is sometimes carefully crafted by specialists or political technologists to persuade public opinion in favor of a cause or simply to sow doubt or controversy.

This last point is very important. Some people create disinformation simply to make an explanation or piece of information seem controversial when it really isn't. For example, the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Russian media presented a lot of false hypotheses to explain the disaster: it was caused a Ukrainian Buk missile or a Ukrainian fighter jet, Ukrainians thought MH17 was Putin's personal plane and tried to assassinate him, it was a radio-controlled plane with passengers who were already dead, it was caused by local separatists using anti-aircraft missiles. The point is not necessarily to make someone believe any one of these contradictory, alternate versions, but to make someone think "well there are so many ideas that I don't really know what happened" rather than believe the mountains of evidence that point to the real version, that a Russian missile fired by the Russian military shot down the plane.

Malinformation is information that is generally true but used to cause damage to a person, organization, or country. It can take the form of leaked personal information, intimate photos, or other compromising content (whether real or fake). Its main purpose is to destroy the reputation of individuals or organizations.

For example, a story about Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform or the leak of Emmanuel Macron's personal correspondence happened shortly before election day in France. A few hours after the Macron leaks, a day of silence began, i.e. a ban on election campaigning. Most journalists understood their ethical responsibility and treated the correspondence with caution, but bots, political opponents, and the official Twitter page of WikiLeaks started spreading the information through social media.

Many types of information are designed to catch our attention, often by playing on our emotional responses.

In fact, we ourselves are important elements in this system, as we are used to spreading content even further through social media and word of mouth.

Every time we passively accept and share information without verifying it, we add noise and confusion to an already complex media landscape. In that way, we have the same responsibility to verify the reliability of the information we share with our own networks as do the content creators themselves.

Read more about three types of information disorder here.
An example of disinformation:
Vocabulary