We understand that people can sometimes give us wrong information, but what is the difference between misinformation and disinformation?

Both words carry negative connotations – the prefix ‘mis’ and ‘dis’ indicate situations that are opposite from ideal, e.g., disease, misuse (wrongful usage), and disuse (neglect of something).

How do you differentiate between ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation’? The context is in the intent.

‘Misinformation’ is information that is incorrect but is disseminated without any intent of malice. However, ‘disinformation’ refers to information that is circulated with the intention to mislead or deceive.

For example, if I had told a tourist that Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1810, (when the correct year is 1819), I had given the tourist wrong information without the intent to deceive or mislead him or her. I gave wrong information as I was misinformed. I had given ‘misinformation’.

However, if I had intentionally given out information that I knew to be wrong with the intent to deceive someone, then I would be guilty of ‘disinformation’.

It is interesting that the word ‘disinformation’ came to the English language from the Russian word ‘dezinformatsiya’, which refers to false information that is released to deliberately mislead or trick the recipients.

A well-known example comes from the World War Two historical archives. In the weeks before the Allied invasion of Normandy in France (what was later known as D-Day), the British and United States military were worried that German intelligence would pick up the invasion details.

The German military was alert to the possibility of a European invasion and were checking out all the intelligence dispatches. If their spies found out about D-Day, they would alert the German High Command, who would then prepare their forces to defend against the invasion.

Spies in Britain and the US needed a diversion to throw the Germans off the scent, and one opportunity soon arose. It came in the form of a young British soldier who had recently died of pneumonia.

Allied intelligence officers saw their chance and used the corpse to mislead the Nazis into thinking that the planned invasion would be at Sicily instead of Normandy. They dressed up the corpse with fake documents that gave the impression that the dead soldier was part of an advance party preparing for an Allied invasion of Sicily.

They then placed the corpse in the waters off Sicily and waited for the Nazis to take the bait. As the dead soldier died of pneumonia and had fluid in his lungs, the Nazi spies were quickly tricked into believing that the corpse was that of a soldier who had drowned during preparations for an Allied invasion of Sicily.

The German High Command were quickly alerted to the ‘fake news’ and they shored up their defences of Sicily instead of France. By the time they caught on to the actual invasion location, it was too late – the Allied forces had landed at Omaha beach at Normandy and steadily moved their way up to liberate France, and the rest of Europe.

The deception worked – the Germans were fed disinformation that tricked them into putting their forces away from the actual D-Day invasion location.

To recap – ‘misinformation’ is inaccurate information given without malice, while ‘disinformation’ is inaccurate information given with the aim of deception.

I am sure this blog will come to mind the next time you are tempted to blow up at ‘fake news’ you see on social media.

Article contributed by Arulnathan John



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