Zeena Qureshi

@zeenaqureshi

A Glossary for the Misinformation Age

Misinformation terms of today have changed from rumour and urban legend to fake news and disinformation

The Internet has changed the way we consume information, but the scale and diversity of content on offer can be overwhelming. There is just so much hot air, so many technical terms and slang “isms”, so much misinformation from all sides.

In order to help, we’ve put together a glossary for the Misinformation Age, a collection of definitions that we hope will bring some clarity to a loud, muddled and confusing world.

Conspiracy theory

~ An explanation for an event that aims to prove that an illegal action — usually undertaken by a government or powerful actor — was the reason for that event’s occurrence.

Conspiracy theories tend to be applied to events some time after their occurrence and upheld for many years to come, e.g. the widely held conspiracy theory that the 1969 Apollo moon landings were a hoax.

Content farm

~ An organisation that uses algorithmically driven data to create articles, videos and other forms of media that are specifically designed to rank highly on web search engines.

Typically, a content farm will use workers who either analyse data to find out what content has the most chance of going viral, or, spend time creating viral content that can then be shared. The intention is to maximise the number of eyeballs that see a single piece of content, with the aim of either maximising revenue from advertising or promoting certain messages.

Disinformation

~ Information that is spread with the deliberate intention to deceive.

This differs from misinformation, for disinformation is always distributed intentionally and, quite often, strategically. The English word is a translation of the Russian, dezinformatsiya, which is derived from the title of a KGB propaganda department. It’s also claimed that Stalin originally coined the term, giving it a French-sounding name in order to falsely claim it had a Western origin. The term is now widely used in politics as a coverall term for describing lying and propaganda.

“While information is the oxygen of the modern age, disinformation is the carbon monoxide that can poison generations.” (Newton Lee)

Echo chamber

~ Its meaning is analogous to an acoustic echo chamber, where sounds reverberate within a hollow, empty enclosure. Hence, it describes a situation where information, ideas and beliefs are reinforced and supported by ongoing communication and repetition within the limits of a defined system.

Within an echo chamber, official reports go unquestioned, and opposing viewpoints are silenced, as everything is done to support the central viewpoint of the authoritarian power.

Who knew fake news would actually gain traction

Fake news

~ A type of propaganda or yellow journalism that deliberately pushes misinformation to the wider community known to be fictionalised, false and misleading. It is often created with the specific intention of discrediting or damaging a person or a group within that community.

As well as unfairly targeting innocent victims, it also undermines media coverage that is looking to report the world correctly, without the undermining and colouring from misinformation. It relies upon ease of access to technology and reach.

“”Look, the media is fake. The media is — really, the word, I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with — is fake.” (Donald J Trump)

Filter bubble

~ A state of self-reinforcing intellectual isolation results from web searches that lead algorithms beginning to know what information a user wants to be shown, based upon their search history, location and internet behaviour. This builds up over time, as the algorithms know the user better, and the filter bubble grows ever stronger.

It leads to a user being shown only self reinforcing content on the internet, as less opposing viewpoints and arguments are shown to them over time.

Gatekeepers

~ Used in relation to the internet to describe an influential individual who decides whether a large community of users will be given access to a given message that is distributed via a mass medium, e.g. a social network.

Hoax

~ A falsehood deliberately designed to look like the truth.

This is quite different to errors in judgment or observation, due to the fact that hoaxes are created with the intention to mislead.

Internet bias

~ The understanding that the internet allows for anything to be written about and published without the need for any expertise, qualification or citation. The bias of the internet is that there is no filter and, hence, anything can be published as ‘fact’.

Whereas a book found in a library generally has been reviewed and edited, Internet sources do not have the same filter. The Internet allows writers to write anything without peer review, qualifications, or backup documentation.

Misinformation

~ Anything that is false that is spread. It can either be known as false or not known as false.

This can include rumors to disinformation to deliberate propaganda to unintentional errors. Whereas disinformation is based upon the intention of the distributor, misinformation may not be created and distributed with the intention to deceive, disinformation is used as a weapon, distributed intentionally and often strategically.

“It’s ironic that this amazing invention of the Internet has made information gathering easier available than ever, but that this platform also helps spread misinformation.” (will.i.am)

Minion parodies are golden

Parody

~ A work created with the intention of making fun of an original work, person or organisation through satirical or ironic imitation. Also often known as a spoof, caricature or joke.

Is not a form of disinformation as it is apparent to everyone present — from audience to participant actors — that the performance is a joke and, hence, is not true.

Post-truth

~ Relating to a time or set of circumstances where objective facts are seen to be less influential in shaping public opinion and future outcomes than emotional and personal beliefs.

It’s literal translation means ‘after the truth was known’, but it’s thought that the latest implication of the term can be understood as the truth having become irrelevant. It was voted Word of the Year 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries.

Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies.” (Jonathan Freedland)

Propaganda

~ Information used primarily to influence an audience and makes them either support or stand against a message, furthering the agenda of the power that has created both the message and the propaganda.

It is usually associated with material prepared by governments and ruling forces, but all parties, from activist groups, to corporations and the media have also produced propaganda. The term has become closely associated with a manipulative approach, with influence being exerted over readers of messages in a conspiratorial and underhand way.

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” (Garry Kasparov)

Satire

~ The creation or performance of often humorous literature or stage craft, done with the intention of ridiculing individuals, corporations, governments or sections of society.

Although often humorous or ironic, its purpose is often constructive social criticism. Nowadays, it can include memes, commentary, television shows, and media, such as lyrics. Is not a form of disinformation as it is apparent to everyone present — from audience to participant actors — that the performance is a joke and, hence, is not true.

If only these trolls were as nice and fun as the little troll dolls from childhood

Troll

~ An internet slang term for an online persona — often fake — that exists purely for the purposes of sowing discord and starting arguments online, mostly on newsgroups, forums, chat rooms, or blogs.

Virality

~ The effectiveness of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another.

Yellow journalism

~ A type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate or well researched news, employing eye catching, clickbait headlines, with the sole intention of selling more newspapers and/or advertising space. The term is used as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.

Techniques to push this agenda may include exaggerations of events, scare and scandal-mongering or sensationalism. The term is most commonly used in the US, but its equivalent in the UK would be, tabloid journalism.

“We all know that yellow journalism didn’t just happen a week ago or a month ago, that yellow journalism has probably been with us as long as journalism has been with us.” (Errol Morris)

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