False news, fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories – we have been hearing these terms again and again in connection with news for some years now. But they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Therefore, we explain here what distinguishes the terms.
Disinformation refers to all those news and facts that are demonstrably false or misleading. They often seem true because they are wrapped in a story. Therefore, it can quickly happen that you fall for it. Disinformation is intentionally spread in order to spread a certain mood – for example, against certain people or political measures. Disinformation is especially a problem in times of crisis, such as the Corona pandemic or the Ukraine war.
“Fake news” is a term often used colloquially to describe disinformation. However, it is also used politically to disparage other political positions or people. Sometimes it is also used to criticize traditional media.
In contrast, misinformation is incorrect or untrue information that is disseminated without intent. In the past, there were occasionally so-called “newspaper hoaxes”: In this case, a report was published in the newspaper that subsequently turned out to be false. The newspaper pointed out in a later issue.
You may know satire from programs like the heute show or from memes. It is a form of artistic expression. Although satire often uses stylistic devices similar to those used for disinformation (e.g., exaggeration or simplification of facts), it does not belong to disinformation. Satire does not want to intentionally deceive, but to make grievances or problems clear.
Propaganda refers to all actions and methods used to disseminate targeted views, ideas or information (including disinformation) in order to politically influence or manipulate public opinion in a particular way. This also includes posters and the like.
Conspiracy narratives are based on the view that there are planned conspiracies behind political actions or certain events. Very well known is the conspiracy that September 11 was caused by the Americans themselves. This would have given the U.S. justification to invade Iraq and overthrow the ruler.
Conspiracy theories lend themselves to finding simple explanations for complicated relationships. A simple worldview is developed based on clichés or stereotypes. Persons and facts are clearly divided – into good and bad, right or wrong.
You can learn how you and your children can recognize and deal with false reports or disinformation in our article on the topic.