A key component of the definition of disinformation is the intention of the person or entity creating the message. Disinformation is distributed with the specific purpose of misleading the public. The false information is meant to impact society by swaying the opinions of the members of the audience. Disinformation also describes politically motivated messaging designed explicitly to engender public cynicism, uncertainty, apathy, distrust, and paranoia, all of which disincentivize citizen engagement and mobilization for social or political change. Disinformation is always purposeful and not necessarily composed of outright lies or fabrications. It can be composed of mostly true facts, stripped of context or blended with falsehoods to support the intended message, and is always part of a larger plan or agenda.

Deliberately distributing false material with the purpose of generating outrage or chaos in society, essentially as a political dirty trick, would rightfully be referred to as spreading disinformation. The agent who creates the false information in the unreliable source is guilty of creating and spreading disinformation. The intention is to cause a reaction in the public opinion based on the false information that he or she created.



Our ability to know the truth is very limited. Facts are disputed, and what those facts mean is subject to multiple interpretations. As human beings we’re subject to a vast number of cognitive biases, which means that none of us is entirely objective. We can aspire to be so, but we will never achieve it.

In his book Psychology of Intelligence Analysis published by the CIA, Richards J. Heuer writes: “Analysts do not achieve objective analysis by avoiding preconceptions; that would be ignorance or self-delusion. Objectivity is achieved by making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible so that they can be challenged by others and analysts can, themselves, examine their validity.  … [one view is that] objectivity requires the analyst to suppress any personal opinions or preconceptions, so as to be guided only by the “facts” of the case. To think of analysis in this way overlooks the fact that information cannot speak for itself. The significance of information is always a joint function of the nature of the information and the context in which it is interpreted. The context is provided by the analyst in the form of a set of assumptions and expectations concerning human and organizational behavior. These preconceptions are critical determinants of which information is considered relevant and how it is interpreted. … The question is not whether one’s prior assumptions and expectations influence analysis, but only whether this influence is made explicit or remains implicit.

In other words, don’t kid yourself that you can be objective. You can’t. What matters is whether your biases are made explicit or are hidden.

Disinformation can only be proven if it is backed up by a proper quantitative analysis of what is said and by who, of how much of news is true and how much untrue, etc. Disinformation cannot be proven by a handful of anecdotes about allegedly biased reporting. Handful of examples do not really prove anything.

Regardless of the identity of the person or organisation seeking to deceive, however, the key question is how to establish the intent to disinform, once false information has been identified. Such deliberation can be inferred by examining the accuracy of the information given, the balance of commentators interviewed and the credibility of the sources chosen

Accuracy and the duty of care

The first duty of those who speak to the public from positions of authority, such as politicians, journalists and academics, is to make sure that they are getting their facts right. This is a duty of care, and it can be stated in the following terms:

Those who speak from a position of authority have the duty to ensure:

1) that any statement of fact which they make has been subjected to a reasonable degree of verification to ensure its accuracy;

2) that their reporting ensures an appropriate balance in its use of commentators;

3) that due care is taken to ensure the credibility of the sources quoted. Those who fail to exhibit a reasonable degree of care in these areas are committing disinformation.

“ A “reasonable degree” is, of necessity, a flexible term. For example, where a speaker is found to have given false information, a number of factors will play a role in determining whether there appears to have been an intent to mislead:

• Could the speaker have found out the correct information easily?

• Was the correct information readily available from multiple sources?

• Did the speaker issue a correction?

• Did the speaker qualify their statement at the time? (e.g. by the addition of qualifiers such as ‘apparently’ or ‘allegedly’.)


A further duty of care falls upon the media to ensure balance in their reporting. This is because a false impression of events can be conveyed, even without the dissemination of false information, if the reporting only reflects one side of a dispute.


A report can also be considered as spreading disinformation if it relies for part or whole of its effect on a commentator, or group of commentators, who cannot be considered as credible experts on the issue in question, when other, more credible experts could have been found easily.


Disinformation is easy to define, but difficult to prove conclusively. Yet there is a pressing need to improve the way by which the public and institutions can identify it in a timely manner. The above identifying indicators can be used to infer the probable presence, or absence, of the intent to disinform. Where such cases are identified, it is sufficient to ask whether the speaker could have avoided the violation by taking reasonable care in checking their facts, finding balancing quotes or seeking out a credible commentator. Care and judgement must be exercised in the use of these indicators : mistakes do happen, editors make errors of judgement and politicians fumble their lines. However, these errors can be corrected, and indeed should be corrected. If a speaker or a news outlet violates the above principles repeatedly, and does not correct their errors, they should be considered as committing disinformation.

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