5 strategies for combatting misinformation, disinformation and malinformation

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Combatting mis, dis and malinformation

Patrice Smith is a lecturer in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at California State University, Long Beach. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on X.

As lies and rumors spread across the internet, the terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” have become part of communicators’ lexicon. Although many professionals and consumers attribute this issue to the advancement of technology such as social and AI tools, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)’s special report, “Tackling Misinformation: The Communications Industry Unites,” states misinformation is a human issue and would continue to spread without the use of technology.



Defining the terms

According to the PRSA special report, the terms misinformation, disinformation and malinformation are defined as:

  • Misinformation: The creation and distribution of false or inaccurate information by a poorly informed or misinformed party without the intent to cause damage.
  • Disinformation: The creation and spreading of purposefully inaccurate and false information with the intention to deceive and cause harm.
  • Malinformation: Malinformation, which may stem originally from truthful statements or accurate events, is information that is recontextualized or exaggerated to intentionally inflict harm.

Strategies to combat misinformation:

  1. Ensure your messaging is clear to your internal employees and be sure everyone knows how to communicate the message externally from the top to the bottom of the organization. Misinformation can spread internally if everyone does not understand how to share your organization’s key messages properly. Internally, organizations can manage by having messaging documents are readily available to all PR and communications employees.
  2. Fact-check everything and confirm the source is credible. Research conducted by three MIT students revealed that false news spreads more rapidly on X (formerly Twitter) than real news. With false and misleading information rapidly spreading — whether intentionally or unintentionally — PR and communications professionals must double-check their sources.
  3. Host regular all-hands meetings and strategy-building sessions. PR leaders should consistently invest in training their teams; taking care of employees is key to maintaining a strong brand and public reputation. Employee trainings should cover media literacy, identifying misinformation and addressing emerging threats. Additionally, organizations need a crisis plan to protect the brand reputation in the case of unexpected issues.
  4. Don’t stretch your messaging. While exaggeration is becoming more common, communicators should not stretch or distort their organization’s messaging. Disseminating false or misleading information knowingly violates the PRSA Code of Ethics, exposes you to fact-checking by external audiences and damages your reputation as a representative of the organization.
  5. Refresh your crisis communications plan and train your employees. With the rapid spread of misinformation, it’s important to ensure your employees are aware of emerging threats facing the organization. If a crisis arose overnight, would your staff know how to respond? It’s crucial to train your employees on the protocols for handling emerging threats effectively.

As public relations and communications professionals, we must uphold high ethical standards to effectively combat misinformation by adhering to the PRSA code of ethics.



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