A Phil-for-an-ill Blog

October 6, 2008

Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation, Comparing Definitions

Filed under: Random Insights — Philip Jonkers @ 7:20 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,


Let’s start off by defining information by consulting Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: in·for·ma·tion
Pronunciation: “in-f&r-‘mA-sh&n
Function: noun
1 : the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
2 a (1) : knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction (2) : INTELLIGENCE, NEWS (3) : FACTS, DATA b : the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data (2) : something (as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which justifies change in a construct (as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct d : a quantitative measure of the content of information; specifically : a numerical quantity that measures the uncertainty in the outcome of an experiment to be performed
3 : the act of informing against a person
4 : a formal accusation of a crime made by a prosecuting officer as distinguished from an indictment presented by a grand jury

Now, data doesn’t become information until the recipient of data recognises the (value of) data. As such, information is more synonymous with knowledge than data. YourDictionary comes up with this definition:

1. Knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction.
2. Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication; intelligence or news. See Synonyms at knowledge.
3. A collection of facts or data: statistical information.
4. The act of informing or the condition of being informed; communication of knowledge: Safety instructions are provided for the information of our passengers.
5. Computer Science Processed, stored, or transmitted data.
6. A numerical measure of the uncertainty of an experimental outcome.
7. Law A formal accusation of a crime made by a public officer rather than by grand jury indictment

Information can either be factual or non-factual, correct or incorrect.

From both Internet definitions we must settle on a proper definition of information that satisfies the needs for someone trying to discern truth from falsehood:

Information: communicated data that is recognized by the recipient as having a value of variable prominence (1) and truth content (2).

  1. This is a subjective property of information and depends on the recipient’s own personal attributed importance to the information assimilated.
  2. This is an objective property independent of the recipient of the information.


Information can either be correct or incorrect. If it’s incorrect it’s called misinformation:

Misinformation comes in two flavors:

  1. The dispatcher of information is unaware of the incorrectness of the disclosed information. In other words, it was not the intention to transmit faulty information.
  2. The dispatcher of information is aware of the incorrect nature of the communicated information. It may therefore be deduced that the transmission of wrongful information was intentional.


The act of deliberately disseminating erroneous information is known as ‘spreading disinformation‘.

To recap, we have the following relationships: information encompasses both the correct and incorrect kind. Incorrect information, called misinformation, contains the subset of disinformation which is the part of misinformation that is spread around by parties who know the information is incorrect.

It all becomes quite simple if we cast these relationships into the convenient mathematical construct known as the Venn diagram:

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