2: Definitions

Sarah Gibbs



Unsure of the difference between misinformation and propaganda? Wondering when “fake news” became a “real thing”? Check out the handy definitions below, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary and scholars in information studies.



Wrong or misleading information. Nicole A. Cooke (2018) notes that misinformation may be incorrect, or simply incomplete, uncertain, or ambiguous.  Misinformation may retain some value, depending on the context (Cooke, 2018). Its creators may be unaware that the information is false.



Deliberately false information, especially that incorrect information supplied by a government or its agent to a foreign power or to the media, with the intention of influencing the policies or opinions of those who receive it. Cooke (2018) suggests that “disinformation is carefully planned, can come from individuals or groups, can be circulated by entities other than the creators […] [(e.g. news organizations)], and is typically written or verbal information” (p.6). She argues that “the key to disinformation is that it is created with malicious or ill intent” (pp. 6-7).


Fake News

Originally U.S. news that conveys or incorporates false, fabricated, or deliberately misleading information, or that is characterized as or accused of doing so. The term was widely popularized during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, and since then has been used in two main ways: to refer to inaccurate stories circulated on social media and the Internet, especially ones that serve a particular political or ideological purpose; or to seek to discredit media reports regarded as partisan or untrustworthy.

Fun Fact: The first recorded use of the term “fake news” dates from 7 February 1890, when a piece in the Milwaukee Daily Journal declared, “That mine story is one of the greatest pieces of fake news that has been sprung on the country for a long time.”



Information of a prejudiced or disingenuous [insincere] nature that is used to encourage a political cause or point of view (Cooke, 2018, p. 4). Propaganda is information that is subjective and is used primarily to influence the target audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission), or by using coded or suggestive messages or language to elicit [generate] an emotional response, as opposed to a rational response. (p.4)

Fun (?) Fact:The term ‘propaganda’ originated in the early seventeenth century, when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide—the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The Congregation was charged with spreading Roman Catholicism through missionary work across the world.” (O’Connor & Weatherall, 2019, p. 97)



A branch of knowledge or a system of beliefs mistakenly regarded as based on scientific method or having the status of scientific truth, or study or research that is claimed as scientific but is not generally accepted as such.

Fun Fact: The first recorded use of the term “pseudoscience” was in 1796; the term was applied to alchemy, a “science” that claimed to be able to turn lead into gold.