NEW YORK: Misinformation, as opposed to disinformation, was chosen on Monday as Dictionary.com’s word of the year on the tattered coattails of “toxic”, picked earlier this month for the same honour by Oxford Dictionaries in these tumultuous times.
Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary, said in a recent interview that her site’s choice of “mis” over “dis” was deliberate, intended to serve as a “call to action” to be vigilant in the battle against fake news, flat earthers and anti-vaxxers, among other conduits.
“The rampant spread of misinformation is really providing new challenges for navigating life in 2018,” Solomon said ahead of the word of the year announcement.
“Misinformation has been around for a long time, but over the last decade or so the rise of social media has really, really changed how information is shared. We believe that understanding the concept of misinformation is vital to identifying misinformation as we encounter it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact.”
The rise of misinformation, Solomon said, stretches well beyond US borders and Facebook’s role in disseminating fake news and propaganda in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The use of Facebook and other social media to incite violence and conflict was documented around the globe in 2018, she said.
There are distinctions between misinformation and disinformation to be emphasised.
“Disinformation is a word that kind of looks externally to examine the behaviour of others. It’s sort of like pointing at behaviour and saying, ‘THIS is disinformation,’ she said.
“With misinformation, there is still some of that pointing, but also it can look more internally to help us evaluate our own behaviour, which is really, really important in the fight against misinformation. 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.”
Dictionary.com chose “complicit” as last year’s word of the year. In 2016, it was “xenophobia”.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2018