Misinformation, disinformation, & malinformation: What’s the difference?

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Did you know that false news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth?

A study found that this is because of the “novelty hypothesis.” According to this hypothesis, human attention is drawn to things that are new. Moreover, we are likely to share novel information because it makes it seem like we have access to inside information. We gain status by spreading this kind of information.

This is dangerous. It means that more false information is out there and it’s growing at a faster rate than real information. So how do we know if we are consuming false information?

Learn more about these three common types of false information so you can avoid them.


Misinformation is sharing something one believes to be true but turns out to be false. It’s not always done with bad intentions. Sometimes, people simply get things wrong and share information that is inaccurate without realizing it. For example, at the start of the pandemic, many people were sharing that holding your breath is a good way to self-test for COVID. According to those who shared it, if you can hold it for 10 seconds without coughing, discomfort, or feeling tightness, you are COVID-free. This piece of misinformation was later proven to be false as we learned more about the virus.

The consequences for sharing misinformation can be mild to grave. For example, a common piece of misinformation is news about a celebrity who has died but in fact has not. Although this can be concerning and sad (especially for the celebrity or for fans), it doesn’t affect our lives as much as a wrong COVID self-test.


Disinformation is when people create false or misleading information to deceive others. There are many types of disinformation but a common form nowadays is fear-mongering. Imagine a “heath guru” on YouTube saying that eating fruits and vegetables is bad for your health. Or a social media influencer saying that long-term breastfeeding damages your child. This is done to influence people to go with a different choice that benefits the one who is sharing the disinformation.

An easy way to spot disinformation is to ask the question “who benefits from this information?” Often, like in our examples above, those sharing disinformation are selling products or services that they claim work better (for example, powder shakes or perhaps a program that weans kids off of mother’s milk). Disinformation can also be used to increase a person’s popularity, which in turn allows them to earn money using their platform.


Malinformation involves sharing true information but in a misleading or harmful way. It intends to harm, embarrass, or discredit someone by revealing private or confidential information without their consent. An example would be someone sharing intimate photos of celebrities after hacking their accounts. Another example is “doxing” which is posting somebody’s private contact details (address, phone number, school, or workplace) for the purpose of opening the individual up to public ridicule. Social media can easily amplify malinformation, causing damage to a person’s reputation.

Why people fall for misinformation – Joseph Isaac

Tips to avoid falling victim to false information

  1. Check the source

    Always verify information to see if it’s from a reliable source. If a story sounds too shocking to be true, it might be misinformation.

  2. Cross-check

    Look for the same information on multiple trustworthy websites. Reliable news outlets often back-up claims with facts.

  3. Go to fact-checking websites

    Use fact-checking websites like Snopes or FactCheck.org to verify the authenticity of news stories.

  4. Be skeptical

    Question sensational headlines and images. Manipulative content often aims to evoke strong emotions.

  5. Use critical thinking

    Analyze the information logically before accepting it as truth.

  6. Don’t share right away

    Don’t share information without fact-checking first.

  7. Educate others

    Spread awareness about misinformation to friends and family. Knowledge is the best defense.

By understanding the differences between disinformation, malinformation, and misinformation, and by staying vigilant online, you can navigate the information maze and make well-informed decisions.

Sources: Analysing how people orient to and spread rumours in social media by looking at conversational threads, Zubiaga, A., Liakata, M., Procter, R., Bontcheva, K., & Tolmie, P. (2016), PLOS ONE; Misinformation, disinformation and Mal-information, Media Defence; and How can we protect truth in the age of misinformation, Sinan Aral, TED. Accessed November 9, 2023.

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Community Resources

Here’s a great resource for testing the reliability of online information: Break the fake: How to tell what’s true online from Media Smarts.

Learn more about being media smart from this guide: Assessing online information in 5 steps.

Learn about Tools that Fight Misinformation Online.

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