Misinformation does not and cannot – by definition – exist.
Correct information, incorrect information, true information, false information can all certainly exist, as can partial, missing, complete, and detailed.
Just not misinformation – same with disinformation, by the way.
So why is the term used with such vitriolic abandon? Why not call something a lie and leave it at that?
Because misinformation is not about describing factual information but about dismissing and denigrating personal opinion and belief. It is about changing when someone says “I think…” into “I know” and then claiming that person is spreading a factual misrepresentation.
Like the famous Jordan Peterson BBC interview in which the host over and over again said “so what you’re saying is …” to Peterson even though he had said no such thing (see the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54&t=966s ), it is a fallacious rhetorical gambit. As one of the commenters put it: if Peterson had suggested going to the movies the host would have snapped back “so you think women can’t read?” a purposefully decontextualized mischaracterization intended to dishonestly ignore and negate the actual meaning of the statement – that is how the term works.
Labeling something as “misinformation” has no bearing on its relationship to the truth of a given situation – it is labeled as such because it is not a lie but simply problematic for those who wish it to be one, or at least perceived as one.
In other words, the epithet of misinformation is used most often, begging Al Gore’s pardon, to describe an inconvenient truth.
Misinformation is different from spin in that spin involves putting the best possible face on, to quote the National Lampoon, true facts. Good (if such a thing exists and I have been one) public relations people know the difference between spin – their job – and a lie, which they actually do try to avoid, especially if the evidence it is one exists in writing somewhere. (Bad/evil/desperate/Biden’s communications team-type PR people do not care if they are lying and are therefore bad at their job because someone will eventually notice – or would if a free, non-collaborationist press still existed.)
If it was a real thing, disinformation would differ from misinformation in that “dis” implies intentionally perpetuating “mis” – either way, both terms are used interchangeably to describe something that is not an actual lie or false; they are mere pejorative covers used to peremptorily silence a difference of opinion.
The key to the creation and profligate use of the term is that it automatically creates a gray area, a space in which doubt can be fostered, where suspicion can exist. This flicker of uncertainty is then capitalized upon by crafty socio-political villains to obliterate the actual factual basis of the supposed “misinformation” itself, rendering it impotent.
As with complicated, unsecure, obscure, overly lengthy vote counting systems, gray areas are very convenient, very deniable places in which to hide questionable conduct.
It is no way shape or form coincidental that the term came into widespread use during the presidency of Donald Trump and the current culture conflicts – again, it is a way of calling something a lie – or someone a liar – without having to bother to determine if it is a lie. And, because people accidentally misspeak or leave out a petty detail or do not ask the exact perfect question, as the case may be, the misinformation brand can still stick in retrospect by being able to repeatedly imply that because 1 % of a statement happened to turn out to be arguably inaccurate the entire statement should be considered suspect forever.
The misinformation descriptor, though provably disingenuous, is an extremely smugly convenient way to carve out of one’s life anything that contradicts one existing mindset. It simplifies existence, especially when applied to not just one particular statement but also to the purveyors of supposed misinformation. “Don’t you know that everything on X channel (or said by person Y or on website Z) is misinformation?” is an all-too-common phrase that also happens to be simultaneously inaccurate and meaningless.
It is inaccurate because misinformation does not exist and it is meaningless because it lacks context if used, as it usually is, indiscriminately and prematurely. For example, at the onset of the pandemic, few people (except those who knew how badly he bungled the onset of AIDS: https://www.aier.org/article/fauci-was-duplicitous-on-the-aids-epidemic-too/ ) had reason to doubt the statements of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Within a few months, he was publicly proven to be a liar – not just a source of “misinformation” – so doubting anything he currently says is perfectly justified, though he has yet to be labeled by the legacy media as a purveyor of “misinformation,” let alone branded a liar.
But pre-evidentiary labeling is never a good idea, let alone when the supposed “misinformation” was not intended initially as purely information but opinions related to, beliefs about, and “takes” on events and claims and positions.
Claiming misinformation exists is disinformation, if you will, at its most pernicious, so when encountering the term, know that it is being used to obfuscate, to trick, to blur, and not to educate, warn, or caution.
It is – to put it bluntly – a lie.
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Calif., and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at email@example.com. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com/