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I have checked OALD. I looked up "disinformation" which according to dictionary means "false information that is given deliberately, especially by government organizations" and "Misinform" as a verb means "to give somebody wrong information about something". However, there is no explanation of the word "Misinformation" as a noun. What exactly is the difference between these two? I would like to know if there is any nuance between these two words or if they can be used interchangeably.

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  • Have checked a dictionary?
    – Kris
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:34
  • Yes, I have checked OALD. I looked up "disinformation" which according to dictionary means "false information that is given deliberately, especially by government organizations" and "Misinform" as a verb means "to give somebody wrong information about something". However, there is no explanation of the word "Misinformation" as a noun. What exactly is the difference between these two? Apr 15, 2014 at 14:42
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    It seems to me that your own cited definitions make the distinction clear (the dis- prefix almost always implies deliberately incorrect, whereas that implication doesn't necessarily apply with mis-). Extrapolating that distinction between verb and noun forms seems like General Reference to me. Apr 15, 2014 at 15:03
  • I see it this way: misinformation is to give out incorrect information; on the other hand, disinformation is to provide contrary information with a view to 'remove' (dis-) the existing information possessed by the receiver, i.e., make people believe something that is contrary to what they had (correctly) believed so far.
    – Kris
    Apr 15, 2014 at 15:07
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    @Kris That definition is nonstandard at best; can you provide any evidence for the word's usage that way? Joji, I'd recommend editing the question to include the definitions (rather than just mentioning that the words "can be found" in the dictionary) and explicitly state that you don't see a difference between them. Apr 15, 2014 at 20:06

6 Answers 6

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Misinformation is false information that is simply wrong irrespective of whether it is deliberate or accidental, a genuine mistake or criminal incompetence.

Disinformation is deliberate and implies a (government or corporate) policy of avoiding giving the whole truth, but may not actually be false - the idea is to avoid getting caught in an outright lie.

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    Would this suggest that disinformation is a subset of misinformation (that is, all disinformation is misinformation, but not vice versa)?
    – asfallows
    Apr 16, 2014 at 19:40
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    Don't believe everything you read in a dictionary or on the web... Generally nothing is a synonym for anything else. There are special words for supersets and subsets of meanings: "hypernym" and "hyponym". However even though Wordnet tries to fit everything into a tree-shaped taxonomy, real life and real language aren't like that. In this case the political and pragmatic differences are sufficiently complex that I wouldn't say one was a subset of the other. In addition 'misinformation' is rare compared with 'misinformed' while 'disinformation' is common & 'disinformed' is rare. Apr 24, 2014 at 5:00
  • @asfallows: disinformation may be misinformation or just misleading information; misinformation may be deliberate disinformation or just accidental mistakes; so neither is a subset of the other. Apr 24, 2014 at 5:04
  • I'm not sure whether your definition of disinformation is sufficient. I think it is more aggressive and deceptive than what you claim. I think it often serves to confound, manipulate, brainwash, or gaslight. I don't think your definition really covers this harmful sense of the word.
    – ktm5124
    Jan 24, 2017 at 19:50
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Whereas both misinformation and disinformation refer to information that is incorrect or misleading, disinformation much more strongly indicates that the information is made so and spread in order to deceive people. The primary meaning for misinformation according to Cambridge is

wrong information, or the fact that people are misinformed

whereas for disinformation, it is flatly

false information spread in order to deceive people

Suppose I am exploring a new town. A sign indicating the metro station has been placed backwards, and thus points the wrong way. This would be simple misinformation. But suppose someone placed the sign that way so that tourists walk down a side street where they would need to walk by his friends— who are muggers. That is disinformation.

The American online dictionaries make disinformation the far more sinister term, one that suggests a conspiratorial institutional effort:

(MW) disinformation, n. false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth

(AH) disinformation, n. Deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government or especially by an intelligence agency in order to influence public opinion or the government in another nation:

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    "A sign indicating the metro station has been placed backwards, and thus points the wrong way. This would be simple misinformation." During WWII, British road signs were intentionally altered to point the wrong way, in order to provide disinformation to any potential German invasion force.
    – Jules
    Apr 16, 2014 at 3:45
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    Perhaps important to note that disinformation is still misinformation. Misinformation isn't necessarily innocent, it just doesn't outright imply intent.
    – KRyan
    Apr 16, 2014 at 17:21
  • I think this answer does a good job of differentiating the two words, and relating the sinister connotation of disinformation.
    – ktm5124
    Jan 24, 2017 at 19:53
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Misinformation can be given innocently, negligently, or carelessly. For example, an astrologer might be sincere in his beliefs, but an educated person will consider his book misinformation.

Disinformation clearly implies that the person speaking is intentionally making a false statement that he or she knows to be false. For example: if a government shoots down a plane, then issues a false report that the pilot was drunk, that would be disinformation.

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    David Powers makes a good point--disinformation is not necessarily false (though it certainly can be). In my example, if you shoot down the airplane, saying that the pilot was drunk is "disinformation" whether it's true or false, because it leads the reader away from the truth you're trying to conceal.
    – chapka
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:53
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A person giving misinformation believes the information is correct. A person giving disinformation knows the information is not correct.

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Misinformation is simply information that is innocently wrong, or mistaken.

Disinformation is information that is "wrong, with a deceptive strategy behind its wrongness."

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    I would not say that misinformation is always innocent. Disinformation, to my mind, is a subset of misinformation, not a separate category.
    – chapka
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:40
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The difference is intent. With "disinformation" the intent is to deceive and to commit deception. With "misinformation" the intent isn't necessarily evil.

However, some politicians and others will use the passive voice, "I was misinformed" when they are caught out trying to pass disinformation. In this case there was an intent to deceive originally, but it didn't work.

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