Dictionary.com’s word of the year is “misinformation.” Not “disinformation.”
The two are often—incorrectly—used interchangeably, and knowing the difference is crucial in our mis-/dis-informative world. As Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary.com, told the AP: “Understanding the concept of misinformation is vital to identifying misinformation as we encounter it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact.”
Solomon herself gave an exceptionally confusing description of the two: “Disinformation is a word that kind of looks externally to examine the behavior of others. It’s sort of like pointing at behavior and saying, ‘THIS is disinformation,’” She said. “With misinformation, there is still some of that pointing, but also it can look more internally to help us evaluate our own behavior, which is really, really important in the fight against misinformation.”
The difference is actually very simple: Both terms refer to false information, but the crux is whether it’s intentionally false. If whoever put it out did so by mistake, you’re looking at misinformation. If it was deliberate, you have disinformation on your hands.
For completeness, below are Dictionary.com’s definitions of the two words.
“False information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead:
In the chaotic hours after the earthquake, a lot of misinformation was reported in the news.“
- “False information, as about a country’s military strength or plans, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion: Soviet disinformation drove a wedge between the United States and its Indonesian allies.
- Deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda: Special interest groups muddied the waters of the debate, spreading disinformation on social media.“