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Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally. It is distinguished from disinformation, which is intended to mislead. When comparing misinformation to disinformation, Jürgen Habermas says that the motives play an active role in the effect the information has. Misinformation may have a less devastating effect in that readers can criticize what they have read and evaluate it as truth or fiction. Authors will also have to give reasoning for their beliefs and support their statements with facts.
In an age of technological advances, social networking sites are becoming more and more popular. These sites are an easy access point for misinformation. They provide users with the capabilities to spread information quickly to other users without confirmation of its truth. This also makes things more difficult when several other users can share or change data to accommodate their own thoughts. When researching these sources, it is important to learn the extent of which the misinformation will be disseminated, to what audience, and how quickly it will spread. These important clues can help websites know what plans of action need to be taken to avoid outbreaks.
According to Anne Mintz, editor of Web of Deception: Misinformation on the Internet, the best ways to find if information is factual is to use common sense. Look to see if information makes sense, if the founders or reporters of the sites are biased or have an agenda, and look at where the sites may be found. It is highly recommended to look at other sites for that information as it might be published and heavily researched, providing more concrete details.
Martin Libicki, author of Conquest In Cyberspace: National Security and Information Warfare, noted that the trick to working with misinformation is the idea that readers must have a balance of what is truth and what is wrong. Readers cannot be gullible but cannot be paranoid that all information is incorrect. There is always a chance that even readers who have this balance will believe an error or they will disregard the truth as wrong. Libicki says that prior beliefs or opinions affect how readers interpret information as well. When readers believe something to be true before researching it, they are more likely to believe something that supports their prior thoughts. This may lead readers to believe misinformation.
Misinformation is spread for numerous reasons. The next three sections explain how misinformation has spread and continues to spread as the Internet and other technologies expand.
The Internet allows writers to write anything without peer review, qualifications, or backup documentation. Whereas a book found in a library generally has been reviewed and edited, Internet sources do not have the same filter. They are produced and put out to the world to see as soon as the writing is finished.
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A state may have official secrets, in wartime and even in peacetime. This state would not want the weaknesses of its weapons, its troop movements, its ship sailings, or any shortages of essential components of its military to be available to the public, because enemy agents might get such information and use it to their advantage. Soldiers would be told only what they need be told at the time so that if they should be captured they would not divulge valuable information to the enemy. Governments might try to discourage curiosity about details that could harm the nation if they got into the wrong hands. To be sure, the state cannot deny even such information as casualty lists or military setbacks and cannot avoid acknowledging historical fact. The state may announce the truth when the truth can no longer harm military objectives -- and must do so in a timely manner so that it can maintain its credibility. Failure to inform the public about this information could foster rumors and misinformation, creating possible harm to those involved.
Competition in News and Media
Because news and websites are all working to get the most viewers, there is a need for speed in getting stories and releasing them to the public. News companies broadcast stories 24 hours a day and break the latest news in hopes of getting the most views. News is also produced at such quick rates that it does not always allow for fact checking or all of the facts to be given at one time, letting readers or viewers interpret their own opinions, and possibly leading to the spread of misinformation.
Misinformation can affect all aspects of life. When eavesdropping on conversations, one can gather facts that may not always be true or the receiver may hear the message incorrectly and spread the information to others. On the internet, one can read facts that may not have been checked or may be erroneous in its entirety. On the news, companies may emphasize the speed at which they receive and send information but may not always be correct in the facts.
In the world of politics, being a misinformed citizen can be viewed as worse than being an uninformed citizen. Misinformed citizens can state their beliefs and opinions with confidence and in turn affect elections and policies. This type of misinformation comes from speakers not always being upfront and straightforward. When information is presented as vague, ambiguous, sarcastic, or partial, receivers are forced to piece the information together and assume what is correct.
- Nel, Francois (2005). Writing for the Media in Southern Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-19-578414-6.
- Stahl, Bernd (2006). "On the Difference of Equality of Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation: A Critical Research Perspective". Informing Science 9: 83–96.
- Nguyen, Dung; Nam Nguyen; My Thai. "Sources of Misinformation in Online Social Networks" (PDF). University of Florida.
- Mintz, Anne. "The Misinformation Superhighway?". PBS. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
- Libicki, Martin (2007). Conquest in Cyberspace: National Security and Information Warfare. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–55. ISBN 9780521871600.
- Stapleton, Paul (2003). "Assessing the quality and bias of web-based sources: implications for academic writing". Journal of English for Academic Purposes 2 (3): 229–245. doi:10.1016/S1475-1585(03)00026-2. Retrieved March 21. Check date values in:
- Croteau et. al. "Media Technology" (PDF). pp. 285–321. Retrieved March 21. Check date values in:
- Barker, David (2002). Rushed to Judgement: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 106–109.
- Baillargeon, Normand (4 January 2008). A short course in intellectual self-defense. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-58322-765-7. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
- Christopher Murphy (2005). Competitive Intelligence: Gathering, Analysing And Putting It to Work. Gower Publishing, Ltd.. pp. 186–189. ISBN 0-566-08537-2. — a case study of misinformation arising from simple error
- Jürg Strässler (1982). Idioms in English: A Pragmatic Analysis. Gunter Narr Verlag. pp. 43–44. ISBN 3-87808-971-6.
- Christopher Cerf, Victor Navasky (1984). The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation. Pantheon Books.