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Defining misinformation, disinformation and malinformation: An urgent need for clarity during the COVID-19 infodemic


  • Darrin Baines

    (University of Bournemouth)

  • Robert J R Elliott

    () (University of Birmingham)


COVID-19 is an unprecedented global health crisis that will have immeasurable consequences for our economic and social well-being. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, stated ''We're not just fighting an epidemic; we're fighting an infodemic''. Currently, there is no robust scientific basis to the existing definitions of false information used in the fight against the COVID-19 infodemic. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the use of a novel taxonomy and related model (based upon a conceptual framework that synthesizes insights from information science, philosophy, media studies and politics) can produce new scientific definitions of mis-, dis- and malinformation. We undertake our analysis from the viewpoint of information systems research. The conceptual approach to defining mis-, dis- and malinformation can be applied to a wide range of empirical examples and, if applied properly, may prove useful in fighting the COVID-19 infodemic. In sum, our research suggests that: (i) analyzing all types of information is important in the battle against the COVID-19 infodemic; (ii) a scientific approach is required so that different methods are not used by different studies; (iii) ''misinformation'', as an umbrella term, can be confusing and should be dropped from use; (iv) clear, scientific definitions of information types will be needed going forward; (v) malinformation is an overlooked phenomenon involving reconfigurations of the truth.

Suggested Citation

  • Darrin Baines & Robert J R Elliott, 2020. "Defining misinformation, disinformation and malinformation: An urgent need for clarity during the COVID-19 infodemic," Discussion Papers 20-06, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
  • Handle: RePEc:bir:birmec:20-06

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barrera, Oscar & Guriev, Sergei & Henry, Emeric & Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina, 2020. "Facts, alternative facts, and fact checking in times of post-truth politics," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 182(C).
    2. Michael Buckland, 1991. "Rejoinder to “Information as thing”," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, Association for Information Science & Technology, vol. 42(10), pages 758-758, December.
    3. Chaim Zins, 2007. "Conceptual approaches for defining data, information, and knowledge," Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Association for Information Science & Technology, vol. 58(4), pages 479-493, February.
    4. Michael K. Buckland, 1991. "Information as thing," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, Association for Information Science & Technology, vol. 42(5), pages 351-360, June.
    5. Richard J. Boland & Ramkrishnan V. Tenkasi, 1995. "Perspective Making and Perspective Taking in Communities of Knowing," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 6(4), pages 350-372, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert J. R. Elliott & Ingmar Schumacher & Cees Withagen, 2020. "Suggestions for a Covid-19 Post-Pandemic Research Agenda in Environmental Economics," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 76(4), pages 1187-1213, August.

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    COVID-19; infodemic; misinformation; disinformation; malinformation;

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