Misinformation vs. Disinformation: What is the Difference and Why does it Matter?
Do you know the difference between “Misinformation” and “Disinformation”? And why does it matter?
In the age of information, where data flows like an unstoppable river in the digital realm, the distinction between "misinformation" and "disinformation" holds the key to safeguarding the very essence of truth and democracy.
The main difference between these two notions lies in the intention of the one perpetrating it.
Misinformation and Disinformation: two distinct notions
While these notions may seem similar, they are not. Distinguishing them is crucial to understand why safeguarding online free speech is essential to protect democracies. As António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, explained, the main distinction lies in the intention of the perpetrator: is the false information a harmless prank? or a means to maliciously control the information?
In 2021, Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, took it to heart to provide clear definitions of these notions that cannot be used interchangeably: Disinformation is understood as “false information that is disseminated intentionally to cause serious social harm”. Contrary to disinformation, misinformation is the “dissemination of false information unknowingly”.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread without the intent to deceive or harm. It can be a result of misunderstanding, misinterpretation or errors, such as social media rumors, genuine mistakes, outdated information.
Disinformation is deliberately false or misleading information that is spread with the intention to deceive or manipulate others. The purpose is to promote a particular agenda or to harm others, such as fake news, hoaxes, trolling, propaganda, and political manipulation.
Why is it so important to understand this distinction?
In a world interconnected by social media and digital platforms, the consequences of blurring the lines between misinformation and disinformation are staggering. From shaping elections to fueling social unrest, the impact of deliberate falsehoods on our societies is both undeniable and alarming. In 2022, António Guterres, UN Secretary General, also emphasized that disinformation has become a weapon wielded by authoritarian governments to shatter dissenting voices and suppress freedom.
As evidenced in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, state-sponsored disinformation is absolutely devastating on human rights and has serious consequences for democracy, with authoritarian governments trying to manipulate the truth, discourage dissent and hold onto power!
Southeast Asian Case Studies
Myanmar: a Rohingya Genocide incited on Facebook
Myanmar is a cautionary tale of disinformation online, particularly on Facebook, leading to the Rohingya genocide. As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, “identity-based disinformation has fomented discrimination and hatred against minorities, migrants and other marginalized communities generating ethnic or religious tensions that have culminated, at times, in violence offline”. As a matter of fact, the Myanmar military orchestrated a systematic campaign targeting the Rohingya minority, using troll accounts and fake news flooding Facebook for half a decade.
Thailand and Laos: state-led disinformation against Women Human Rights Defenders
State-led disinformation and online smear campaigns against Women Human Rights Defenders are tactics used by patriarchal authoritarian governments to shut down women activists speaking their truth to power.
In Thailand’s Deep South, the government has been sponsoring disinformation to undermine the reputation of WHRDs Angkhana Neelapaijit and Anchana Heemina. As part of the so-called Information Operations (IO) of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a coordinated network of military-linked social media accounts spread orchestrated deception on Facebook and pulony.blogspot.com, threatening their vital work. In May 2022, the Bangkok Civil Court conducted preliminary hearings for a case filed by the two women HRDs against the government. They alleged that ISOC violated rules on official conduct by spreading disinformation to manipulate public opinion about them. However, on 16 February 2023, the court dismissed the case claiming insufficient evidence linking ISOC to the dissemination of information.
In Laos, Human Rights Defenders, like Emilie Palamy Pradichit, Founder & Executive Director of Manushya Foundation, are the preferred target of state-led disinformation. In 2020-2021, she was falsely accused of running an anti-State Facebook page ‘Sivid Nor’ and of recruiting Lao youth to Thailand and sending them back infected with Covid. This disinformation was widely spread across state-controlled Facebook pages.
Our Call to Action!
✊🏼 In this era of widespread disinformation, the fight for truth becomes a fight for freedom!
Truth is the cornerstone of a well-informed society. It empowers us to make informed decisions, shape our opinions, and hold those in power accountable. But in an age of information overload, distinguishing fact from malicious fiction becomes a daunting challenge.
#UnmaskingDisinformation 🗣️ That is why at Manushya, we place significant importance on accurate and reliable information. We believe democracy has been severely affected by disinformation campaigns which is why we are raising awareness regarding this very important distinction! We are committed to safeguarding both democracy and human rights by promoting a safe online digital space, free of deceptive narratives.
🤝 Together, let’s work to ensure access to true and reliable information to safeguard democracy.
Join us in our fight for true and accessible information!
#WeAreManushyan ♾ Equal Human Beings
How can you help?
👉 Share our blog & spread awareness: Educate others about the dangers of disinformation and the importance of reliable information.
👉Verify sources: fact-check information before sharing it, ensuring accuracy and credibility.
👉Report disinformation: be vigilant and report disinformation on social media platforms to prevent its spread.
New York Times, “A genocide incited on Facebook, With Posts from Myanmar’s military”, (15 October 2018), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/technology/myanmar-facebook-genocide.html
New York Times, “Facebook Admits It Was Used to Incite Violence in Myanmar”, (6 November 2018), available at: https://www-nytimes-com.ezpaarse.univ-paris1.fr/2018/11/06/technology/myanmar-facebook.html?searchResultPosition=4
United Nations Human Rights Council, A/HRC/47/25, "Disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression", Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, (13 April 2021), available at: https://www.undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=A%2FHRC%2F47%2F25&Language=E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False
Facebook Page, Sivid Nor, available at: https://www.facebook.com/sivid.nor.1
Facebook post, available at: https://www.facebook.com/104729200917628/posts/551123132944897/?d=n
While you’re here, check our previous work on Digital Rights and how we denounced state-led disinformation ⤵️
#StopDigitalDictatorship, Campaign in Southeast Asia to fight against rising digital dictatorship in the region.
🔊Highlights From Our #RightsCon2023 Session, June 9, 2023
Freedom on the Net 2022: Internet Freedom Remained Under Threat in Thailand, October 19, 2022
Joint Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ‘The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age: Mass surveillance, Digital Contact-tracing, Social Media Monitoring, and Data Requests in Southeast Asia’, June 2022
Joint Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Human Rights Due Diligence, Tech Sector Responsibilities and Business Transparency, February 2022
Joint Submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression: Freedom, Independence, Diversity of Media and the Safety of Journalists in Southeast Asia, January 2022
Thailand UPR III Factsheet on Digital Rights, September 9, 2021
Manushya’s Exclusive Interview with Sophon “Get” Suraritthamrong from Mokeluang Rimnam activist group, May 8, 2023
Manushya’s Exclusive Interview with Kanyakorn “Jib” Suntornprug from United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, May 11, 2023
Manushya’s Exclusive Interview with Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom from Thaluwang group, May 3, 2023