“Disinformation” is a common term at present, in the media, in academic and political discourse, along with related concepts like “fake news”. But what does it really mean? Is it different from misinformation, propaganda, deception, “fake news” or just plain lies? Is it always bad, or can it be a useful and necessary tool of statecraft? And how should we deal with it?
There are no straightforward answers not least because each of these terms provokes a subjective reaction in our minds. Misinformation could be the wrong information put out by mistake, but Disinformation sounds like a deliberate strategy of deceit. Propaganda might be intended to persuade, maybe exaggerated but essentially harmless; or it could be used by an authoritarian state to brainwash its people. In 1948, the Foreign Information Research Department (IRD) was set up in the UK to combat aggressive Communist propaganda, issuing or sponsoring its own propaganda in return: was one of these bad, and the other good? Former CIA analyst Cynthia Grabo said that if propaganda was true, it was public diplomacy; if false, disinformation. Things are not that simple...”