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New USAID Primer: Disinformation, Misinformation, and Malinfomation

By Guest Writer on November 4, 2021

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Disinformation is by no means new. Although social media platforms have emerged as the most efficient spreaders of false information, disinformation is also spread through analog media such as radio, television, and newspapers.

It is, however, the combination of traditional analog media, in concert with new digital technologies, that allows information to spread faster and more broadly (even across borders) in unprecedented ways.

Experts have described this phenomenon as “information disorder,” a condition in which truth and facts coexist in a milieu of misinformation and disinformation—conspiracy theories, lies, propaganda, and half-truths. They have labeled its ability to undermine democracy and individual autonomy “a wicked problem,” i.e., a problem that is difficult and complex, such as poverty or climate change.

Despite the immensity of the challenge, there are promising ways that journalists, civil society organizations, technology specialists, and governments are finding to prevent and counter misinformation and disinformation.

USAID Disinformation Primer

The USAID Disinformation Primer presents an overview of disinformation culture to give readers a sense of key concepts, terminology, select case studies, and programmatic design options.

For example, here is the definition of three types of information problems:

  • Disinformation is information that is shared with the intent to mislead people. It is increasingly a global phenomenon – more prevalent with the rise of social media and the digital economy and a lack of digital and media literacy among consumers of online media.
  • Misinformation is false information spread by someone who believes false information to be true. Misinformation is distinguished from disinformation by a lack of intent to deceive, however, the impact of disinformation and misinformation can be the same. Whether false information is shared intentionally or not, it is still dangerous.
  • Malinformation is deliberate publication of private information for personal or private interest, as well as the deliberate manipulation of genuine content. This is often done by moving private or revealing information about an individual, taken out of context, into the public sphere.

This primer is compiled with the intention of helping USAID staff and partners to understand the basics of disinformation, how it is spread, why it is spread, and how programming can help reduce its damaging impact on societies around the world.

The primer has seven parts that present programmatic ideas to consider for standalone or integrative approaches as part of democracy and governance-related programming.

A lightly edited synopsis of the USAID Disinformation Primer that you should download and read now.

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