Thing 7

Thing 7. Disinformation, Misinformation, Malinformation


Understanding the similarities and differences between disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation is the first step in identifying the intent of the bad information. That intent can be to confuse and mislead people, change their opinions of an issue or person, impersonate an individual or organization, or other bad intent. Recognizing the intent is important to learning how to prevent the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation. 


There is an incredible amount of false information available today.The first step is defining the correct terms that we use to identify bad information. 

  • Disinformation is false information that is created and spread to cause harm. 
  • Misinformation is false information that is spread without the intent to harm. 
  • Malinformation is true information that is spread to cause harm. 

Using these definitions of the types of bad information, we will examine each in more detail and then see some practical examples to help you understand the meaning and identify them when you encounter them in real life.

The umbrella term is inaccurate information or false information, which is not a favorite here at Media Landscapes, as malinformation is literally bad information, but is not necessarily inaccurate. It is usually entirely truthful or based on true information. Understanding these terms is important, you’d hate to spread misinformation by using the wrong label! 

Disinformation is most easily seen in what is termed “fake news.” This is information that is not based in fact, the information is entirely made up, but written to sound truthful and then spread, typically via social media. Stories such as President Trump’s father was in the KKK or that Nancy Pelosi diverted billions of dollars from Social Security toward the Trump Impeachment. These stories are not true, but were widely spread on social media. This is prime disinformation. 

Misinformation, by contrast, is typically spread unknowingly. You forward an Instagram post to a friend or you send a link to a Facebook post or you share a Tweet or even Retweet a story, these are all common enough practices on social media. You do this because it seemed realistic and you didn’t bother to check, you just forwarded it to someone you think might find  it interesting. Then they pass it on and so on. You are then guilty of spreading misinformation.

It is very easy for misinformation to become disinformation. You unwittingly pass along a fake news story you saw on social media (misinformation). But your colleague knows it’s fake and sends it anyway because they think it’s funny (disinformation). And the reverse is always true. Someone has to create that fake post (disinformation) that you unknowingly passed along (misinformation). They are closely linked, separated only by intent. 

Malinformation, however, is quite different. The intent is always malicious, but the content may not be entirely fake. It can be fu lly truthful, say publishing private information about a person or organization to smear their name. Conversely, it can be partially truthful, such as changing the date/time/location of a video to alter your perception, while the video itself is fully real. Deepfake editing (see Thing 5 and Thing 6) to malign a person, organization, or concept is also a form of malinformation. These are examples of malinformation, sharing truth with the intent to harm. 

Try this quiz Can You Spot the Difference? Mis, Dis, & Mal Information to test what you’ve learned. The quiz was created by media specialists Jennifer LeGarde and Darren Hudgins.

Take a look at the assembled resources to further understand the types of bad information. And make sure to visit Thing 8, Critical Thinking, for some suggestions to help you combat the bad information epidemic. You don’t want to become known as a professional disinformer!


The following videos approach disinformation from an educational perspective. 

Can You Outsmart a Troll? Claire Wardle | TedEd Talk (5:00)

More than Fake News: Understanding the Disinformation Ecosystem. Claire Wardle | Frank Gathering(12:35)


This first article, while lengthy, is a great analysis of this topic with a specific focus on libraries. It gets to the heart of the matter. 

Standing Up for Truth: The Role of Libraries in the Mis/Disinformation Age | Wikiwisdom Report

UNESCO has a commitment to focusing on combating inaccurate information and this article was created with that purpose in mind. 

Information Disorder: Formats of Misinformation | UNESCO article

The title of this article is misleading, it actually deals with general information inaccuracies, rather than specifically fake news. It’s a smart look at this topic. 

Fake news. It’s Complicated | First Draft

This final article offers some relevance and perspective toward media literacy and offers solutions to combat the spread of false information | Stanford Social Innovation Review


Play this game to see if you can identify false information on social media

Spot The Troll | Clemson University Media Forensics Hub

Register for a free Checkology account to gain access to lessons, tools and information for digital literacy | News Literacy Project

Listen to an episode of this podcast and talk about what you learned in the comments below. Is That a Fact? | News Literacy Project

How news-literate are you? Test and sharpen your news literacy skills with short activities, engaging quizzes and shareable graphics for learners of all ages | News Literacy Project

Conversation Starters

Specific to your library or educational community, what real world examples can you provide for misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation? 

Should social media sites share culpability for the spread of inaccurate information or are they merely tools? Would this information still spread without social media as a vehicle? 


Additional Resources

Media Literacy Standards to Counter Truth Decay |  RAND Corporation

Fighting Disinformation Online: A Database of Web Tools | RAND Corporation

Misinfo Day 2020: How Do We Address Someone Who Believes Our Knowledge Is Wrong?

Misinfo Day 2021:

Tools for Fighting Disinformation | RAND

Lesson plan: Why Do We Believe Misinformation? | Common Sense Media

Talking With Someone Who Has Shared Misinformation

Calling Bull video (10 mins): Debunking Myths 

Newsy video (3 mins): How Should You Talk to Someone Who Shares False COVID-19 Info?

Tip Sheets: From PEN America and News Literacy Project

Debunking Misinformation: (0:56)

Debunking Handbook 2020

Disinformation, Misinformation, and Media Literacy | Boston Public Library

False News, Misinformation and Propaganda | Media Defence–7

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