The Concept of Disinformation

The Concept of Disinformation

Don Fallis (University of Arizona, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch463
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Background

Inaccurate information (or misinformation) can arise for a variety of different reasons. For instance, it can be the result of an honest mistake, negligence, or unconscious bias. But inaccurate information is particularly dangerous when it is intentionally disseminated in order to bring about false beliefs. Unlike honest mistakes, disinformation comes from someone who is actively trying to mislead us (see Piper 2002, 8-9, Fetzer 2004). In addition, the best way to deal with disinformation will probably be different from the best way to deal with other types of inaccurate and misleading information. For instance, the clues that someone is lying to us are likely to be different from the clues that she just does not know what she is talking about. Thus, we need to improve our understanding of exactly what disinformation is.

The standard methodology for clarifying concepts is known as conceptual analysis (see Margolis & Laurence 2011, §5). An important project in Information Science is the analysis of the concept of information itself. Many different analyses of information have been proposed (see Fox 1983, 39-74, Floridi 2005). This entry evaluates the various analyses of disinformation that have been proposed. The goal of such analyses is to identify a concise set of necessary and sufficient conditions that correctly determines whether or not something falls under the concept in question. With respect to the concept of disinformation, researchers want to find a list of criteria such that (a) all instances of disinformation satisfy these criteria and (b) only instances of disinformation satisfy these criteria.

Analyses of concepts often come very close to correctly capturing the concept in question. However, when they are tested against a variety of particular cases, many analyses turn out to be inadequate. First, an analysis can be too broad. For instance, an analysis of disinformation might count as disinformation things that clearly are not instances of disinformation. That is, things that differ in important ways from prototypical instances of disinformation (e.g., they do not pose a similar risk of harm to the recipient) satisfy the criteria of the analysis. Second, an analysis can be too narrow. For instance, an analysis of disinformation might not count as disinformation things that clearly are instances of disinformation. This entry provides cases that establish that each analysis of disinformation that has been proposed (save one) is too broad, too narrow, or both.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information: Something that represents some part of the world as being a certain way.

Lying: Asserting something that is believed to be false with the intent to mislead.

Misinformation: Information that is inaccurate.

Deception: Intentionally causing someone to acquire a false belief or to continue to hold a false belief.

Disinformation: Misleading information that has the function of misleading.

Information Quality: Features of information that people typically desire, such as accuracy, completeness, comprehensibility, and accessibility.

Conceptual Analysis: A concise set of necessary and sufficient conditions that correctly determines whether or not something falls under a particular concept.

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