Infodemia, deepfake, fake news… disinformation in 10 words
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen frequent references by experts and in print headlines to the word “infodemic”. What does that really mean? Other terms connected with disinformation may also give rise to doubts: deepfake, fake news, misinformation, bots, fact-checking… You will undoubtedly already have seen many of these on a social media or in WhatsApp messages. Would you like to know what they mean?
Here we set out the essential vocabulary to understand this information. Below you will find 10 keywords in learning how to keep yourself informed:
Have you ever come across followers on your social media profiles that you don’t know, and that seem a little fishy? Followers with strange photos or names, or who follow very few people, or post somewhat suspicious content? Well, they might have been bots. Bots are fake followers, social media accounts created by a computer that in fact have no real person behind them, and are often used for marketing or other interests.
This is a technical term which you need to be familiar with, as deepfakes are expected to be on the increase over the coming years. In short, deepfakes are fake content created using artificial intelligence. Synthesis techniques can, for example, be used to blend two videos and create a third version which is fake, but looks realistic. If you would like to put yourself to the test, we recommend whichfaceisreal, a page which invites you to distinguish between two people: which one exists and which does not? Artificial intelligence can do amazing things, for good or for ill, and it would seem that when the human eye cannot manage to uncover the reality, we could in the future be helped by another technology, blockchain, capable of certifying the source of the information.
Is it the same as fake news? Does it include jokes and photoshopping? What does it mean? The ‘Understanding Disinformation Disorder’ guide by First Draft, a cutting-edge digital fact-checking organization, offers a graphical explanation of the difference between disinformation, malinformation and misinformation, concepts which are often blurred, and which in truth are three types of what is known as “information disorder”. Disinformation is defined by First Draft as “deliberately fake content designed to cause harm”. This is false information generated in order to deceive, so as to obtain some political, economic, personal or other gain.
Information disorder or information chaos refers to everything that serves to “pollute” our information ecosystem; content that generates confusion, deceit, and prevents us from being well informed. And that is a problem. Everyone has the right to information, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and this is fundamental for democratic society.
So named because it involves checking information against official sources to see whether it is fake, or instead provides truthful and reliable facts. The term originated in the USA in the 1990s to refer to the process of checking whether what candidates claimed in their TV adverts were true or not. It has now become more widespread, and covers the analysis of all types of source and content. Fact-checking is a process that all journalists must undertake. There are organizations made up of information professionals focused specifically on verifying both official and unofficial sources, some of which have grouped together as the International Factchecking Network.
Disinformation, infodemic, misinformation, malinformation… Hmm… So what do we call fake news? Journalists and the disinformation expert community have no time for this term at all. A fake can never be news, since news is truthful and proven information. And news cannot contain deliberately fake elements, as set out in the code of ethics of information professionals. And so it would seem that fake news is an expression which has taken off, and which aims to link the traffic in lies to journalists and the media so as to undermine their public standing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made frequent use of this expression during the global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The term infodemic refers to an overload of information, both true and false, which spreads massively in a short timeframe, as with a virus. It is, in short, an “information epidemic“, according to the definition given by the Pan American Health Organization. The most serious consequence is that in this whole whirlwind of data it is hard to distinguish valuable and useful information when we need it. If you have had this sensation with the coronavirus pandemic, here we offer a link that could help: proven facts and pernicious lies compiled by the WHO itself during the pandemic.
This is information created to harm someone. It may be true or false, but the essential characteristic is the aim to undermine an individual’s personal standing, reputation or professional career.
This term refers to information which is false, but which the person spreading it believes to be true. The difference, then, between disinformation and misinformation lies in the intent. When we refer to disinformation, we are talking about deliberately fake information, while misinformation would cover hoaxes which are passed on “unintentionally” as people might typically say. These are falsehoods which spread because the people who retweet or forward them are unable to spot hoaxes or check information. The category of misinformation would also include errors by journalists or other sources of information, or satirical website articles which are interpreted as if they were news.
Just as we have content, tools and people that aim to deceive, there are also those with more noble intentions. In our current context, verification involves checking if information from unofficial sources, such as posts spread by social media, is true or false. Ever since the 2010 protests in Araba countries calling for improved conditions, known as the Arab Spring, it has become clear that journalists and citizens need to learn about digital verification.