Word of the week: “Disinformation”


AAn unattributed Japanese proverb says that “if you understand everything, you must be misinformed”. Clever, right? If a little twee. This word “ill-informed” has taken on a political dimension that has completely shorn it of its proper and literal meaning: erroneous, badly taught, erroneous or incorrect. It’s because of its related cousin, “misinformation.” “Misinformation” was Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2018, when the reference website wrote that there had been a “recent explosion of misinformation”. There was apparently a “growing vocabulary that we use to understand” disinformation, four years ago, one including “misinformation, the echo chamber, confirmation bias, the filter bubble, the theory of conspiracy, fake news, post-fact, post-truth, homophilia, influencer and gatekeeper.

In 2019, misinformation was the word of the late NPR linguist Geoff Nunberg of that year, writing that “over the past two years, ‘misinformation’ has been on a tear – it’s 10 times more prevalent in headlines of the media than five years ago, for the point where he pushed his siblings aside. As Nunberg also notes, misinformation has a long history: “The term ‘dezinformatsiya’ is said to have been coined by no less than Josef Stalin in the 1920s as the name of the KGB section responsible for deceiving enemies and influencing public opinion.” Russian disinformation operations include Operation Infektion, which involved placing a story about the U.S. government intentionally creating AIDS in a laboratory, an idea that continues to be remarkably widespread and persistent, especially among left-wing radical groups. The Chappelle show.

But while they once meant something, ‘misinformation’ and ‘misinformation’ have taken on new uses in the past couple of years, and now they don’t mean anything except that whoever uses them thinks they are. should be somewhere between logistically difficult and illegal to express disagreement. with them. In a recent speech at Stanford University, former President Barack Obama gave a speech on “technology and democracy”, implying that the former jeopardizes the latter. How? Because it allows misinformation to spread, of course. After acknowledging that social media around 2008 is “what elected me”, Obama argued that private social media companies should create fewer filter bubbles and censor more – despite calling himself a absolutist on First Amendment restrictions against government speech censorship, which is nice to see. His ideas are a mixed bag, frankly; some are good. But nothing in the case he argues is helped by the disinformation framework since that word has become just a meme or a signal that its user is with “The Current Thing” among CNN and MSNBC viewers – without any doubt two categories that have a significant Venn-diagram overlap with donors to the Obama Foundation.

Talking about the misinformation “problem” as a new tech crisis creates its own filter bubble. It sorts people who swiped on this word as the last thing to worry about (as if people thinking wrong things are somehow at their peak in 2022) from those of us who think it was misinformation when Obama told us “if we liked our health care plan, we could keep it” (Politifact’s 2013 “Lie of the Year”).

Some things are objectively wrong, and sometimes bad people knowingly spread untruths in an attempt to harm America. But “disinformation” is too attractive a category to apply to anything we disagree with, not just the moderately damaging tools of Russian espionage. And that is, in fact, what is happening. This is why the most dangerous “rise” in recent years is not the rise of disinformation, but the rise of disinformation complaints.


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