This announcement isn’t fake news.
“Misinformation” is the 2018 word of the year, Dictionary.com announced Monday. The word beat out finalists that included “representation,” “self-made” and “backlash.”
“In 2018 we need to be talking about misinformation because misinformation is what’s driving people’s choices, behaviors, and action,” Alicia Garza — co-founder and strategic advisor of Black Lives Matter, partnerships director of National Domestic Work Alliance, and principal of Black Futures Lab — said in a video posted with the announcement.
“There has been a lot of misinformation about what’s happening around the world, and it’s creating a lot of chaos,” she said.
Misinformation is defined by Dictionary.com as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”
The dictionary selected the word as a “call to action” against fake news, anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers.
Linguist-in-residence Jane Solomon said in an interview with the Associated Press the choice of “misinformation” over “disinformation” was purposeful.
The difference between the two is intent, the announcement said. Disinformation means “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.” Disinformation is created and spread with the “intent to mislead,” while people often believe information they are sharing is true when they spread misinformation.
“The weaponization of falsity is something that we will probably, in retrospect, look back on this moment as a defining feature,” Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, said in the video.
The word misinformation has existed since the late 1500s — but with the development of social media, the manner in which information is spread has drastically changed over the last decade. People do not always think to fact-check information, leading misinformation to flourish.
“The information also just keeps coming. So you don’t just hear it from one person, you hear it from multiple sources, and so it gets to that whole illusory truth effect that if you hear a piece of misinformation enough times, you start to believe it’s information.” said Dr. Jen Guner, an OB/GYN and author.
Gunter became interested in debunking myths when patients would come to her with false information they read on the internet.
“I believe we’ve gone past the age of information, and we are stalled in the age of misinformation.”
In the announcement, Dictionary.com noted technology platforms that “grapple with the role they play in the spread of information.”
Dictionary.com noted how critics blamed Facebook for a large amount of misinformation in the tech world — including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved misused personal data, and fake political ads.
While Facebook and other platforms may have struggled to stop the spread of misinformation, others have made the effort to stop it in its tracks.
Twitter cracked down on millions of accounts run by bots that spread misinformation, and Redditt shut down a subreddit with over 70,000 subscribers that discussed the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Solomon emphasized how the dictionary wants the choice of “mis” over “dis” to be a call to action. The dictionary hopes selecting misinformation as the word of the year can teach people not to blame others, but to look at their own actions.
“Disinformation is a word that kind of looks externally to examine the behavior of others. It’s sort of like pointing at behavior and saying, ‘THIS is disinformation.’ With misinformation, there is still some of that pointing, but also it can look more internally to help us evaluate our own behavior, which is really, really important in the fight against misinformation,” Solomon said.
“It’s a word of self-reflection, and in that it can be a call to action. You can still be a good person with no nefarious agenda and still spread misinformation.”