Disinformation vs Misinformation – Neither Can Be Defined by ‘Intent’ (Part I of II)

The social definitions of misinformation and disinformation suffer Wittgenstein Contextual Error. They are disinformation themselves. One should notice that, despite an expansion of such terminology and knowledge, nonetheless people grow more ignorant and gullible each decade. This is exactly how disinformation works.

The 10% lie is much more effective than the 100% one. While misinformation deals in lies, disinformation deals in facts. ‘Fact-checking’ therefore, is a favorite pretense of the disinformant.

This is Part I of a series of two articles. Part II – How to Detect Propaganda – The Art of the Professional Lie can be read here.

Information is qualified by its logical calculus – and not by one’s fantasy regarding their ability to ‘read’ their opponent.

There exist six states of wrong. Each state is defined below, along with its Wittgenstein identifier in parenthesis. But before we outline these definition delineations to a Wittgenstein level however, let’s briefly examine a principle I learned in my intelligence days.

Once detected, a 10% lie (disinformation) is much more informative than a 100% lie (misinformation) – as the latter is merely incorrect. The former often identifies the focus of the propaganda and the latter most often does not. This ‘added focus’ is not intent per se, but rather additional intelligence embedded inside the information itself. It is a status of the information therefore, and not of the person carrying it.

This is critical to comprehend. This ‘added intelligence’ (or agency) is sometimes misinterpreted as ‘intent’ (apparent intent) – hence the obvious confusion. Intent is the status of a person, not of the information. Being ‘partly correct’ (more accurately, the four forms of Disinformation below) is a status of information, not person.

All information stems from and carries intent. That is why it became information and was delivered to you in the first place. Therefore declaring that one knows in advance, what intent is bad (disinformation) and what intent is innocent (misinformation), constitutes a useless God proclamation. The ethical skeptic does not operate under such a luxury of inerrancy, as the ethical skeptic is not a god or anything near that. He or she cannot pretend to know intent a priori. He or she can only judge the soundness, completeness, and logical rigor of the syllogism and inference being passed.

The Conditions of Flawed Information


Misinformation deals in lies, purposed to a state of one ‘being ill-informed’ – as it gives wrong information.

When intentional, its intent is to injure or make the recipient appear as if irrational or error prone to others. Often it is fabricated so as to be detected at some point in the future when it will serve to discredit and harm the most. It is a form of poison information.

Misinformation (Latin ‘Mis’ – bad/wrong) – a state of holding information which is bad/wrong (this can be the result of both intent or non-intent and its contrived stickiness can be both permanent or temporary).1

   •  Wrong (sinnlos) – Factually incorrect (principally or ~100% wrong)
   •  Incoherent/Not even wrong (bedeutungslos) – Babble. Not a syllogism or statement of inference in reality

To the intelligence professional, there is negative utility in regarding ‘mistaken’ information as otherwise being completely sincere. Moreover, ‘being mistaken’ most often stems from Nelsonian intent or fear to begin with. Therefore, everyone bears an intent in transmuting the information they pass to one degree or another.

Immediately prior to the battle between Carthage’s Hannibal and Rome’s Scipio in October, 202 BCE at Zama, Hannibal dispatched men to locate Scipio and assess his legion’s military strength. The Romans captured several of these scouts. However, rather than execute them as spies, Scipio ordered them to be given a tour of the ranks and then be set free. Why did he reveal so much information? Scipio knew that the scouts would save face by not mentioning their capture, yet as well offer an incredibly detailed account of what they saw. However, the Roman army they ‘saw’ was not yet at full strength – and Scipio had hidden his most important battle asset from the scouts, his cavalry. The scouts simply reported that Scipio had no cavalry. This misinformation become the basis of Hannibal’s undoing at Zama.

The job of the intelligence professional is to detect agency, not simply human nature.


Disinformation deals in ‘facts’, purposed to a state of one ‘being un-informed’ – as it gives no actual salient or critical information at all – it can be most easily distinguished by what it ignores or is silent about.

Disinformation is chewing gum, which the consumer thinks is actual food. The disinformant of course does not want to be caught lying, and misinformation can be detected as a lie. Fact-checking therefore, is a favorite pretense of the disinformant – along with misdirection, appeal to ignorance or authority (debunking), or tag-line memorization. Its intent is to make the recipient appear artificially rational or correct before others, as long as they accede to it – so that the notion being passed, can spread more easily. It is fabricated so as to be harder to detect than mere lying. It is fabricated so as to displace the existence of usable information and create an intellectual vacuum (the absence or ‘without’).

Disinformation (Latin ‘Dis’ – without) – a state of being without information – a vacuum created by a spun ‘fact’ – which is superficially, irrelevantly, or partly correct – and distracts the recipient into not being aware that they hold no actual salient information at all (this is almost always intentional and almost always planned to be permanent in terms of its stickiness).2

   •  Contrived Correctness (sinnlos) – Factually correct, logically flawed or unsound inference
   •  Contrived Ignorance (sinnlos) – Mostly correct, Nelsonian knowledge or inference (10% wrong)
   •  Correct but Moot (unsinnig) – Inferentially moot, ignoratio elenchi, red herring, ingens vanitatum
Apothegm/Tag-Line (unsinnig) – A social idiom, appeal to apothegm, or catch phrase

Propaganda and Malinformation

Malinformation, or malicious information, is information which is purposely released and which serves by its content (not per se intent), to harm a targeted individual or organization. It can come in the form of truth, disinformation, or misinformation. Doxxing someone’s children for instance, exposing a crime for which they were convicted as a teenager, or releasing nude photos of someone, all can be 100% true information. As well, it can be fabricated or partially correct. Therefore, malinformation is for the most part a species of propaganda, because propaganda employs both disinformation (true to partly true) and misinformation (lie), as does malinformation.

With that in mind, let us therefore define propaganda (as intent), below.

Propaganda (The Art of the Professional Lie)

The skilled exploitation of caustic or surreptitious misinformation, anonymously sourced malinformation, along with smoothed (both simple and authoritative) disinformation, passed selectively from fiat authority to those targeted and under its influence – which is used to harm opposition voices, and to make allied voices appear more credible.

Propaganda exploits the human proclivity towards fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD), identifying the bad guy in advance (judging intent), and finally the desire for easy and simple answers.

For a breakout of the channels and compartments of propaganda, see Part II – How to Detect Propaganda – The Art of the Professional Lie.

Please note as well that there exist both mis/disinformation and counter-mis/disinformation. One should not allow the complexity of ‘proposition versus counter-proposition’ to confuse the principle outlined above. A fact-checker for instance will often counter a claim made in public, and cite that it is ‘wrong’, when in fact only a minor, headlining, or trivial aspect of the material is wrong. Such would be a case of counter-propositional disinformation.

The counter-intelligence professional is trained to be a skilled observer of a special blend of misinformation and disinformation, called propaganda. Once they attempt to adjudicate these by intent alone, everything becomes a distinction without a difference. Everyone becomes a suspect.

As one can see, neither definition can hinge solely upon intent, as both can bear either its presence or absence. Gaslighting (an intent) for instance, can utilize both misinformation and disinformation at the same time. All six of these conditions of information, can stem from personal maliciousness, sincerity, or intent to deceive – which are conditions of the person, not conditions of information. This logical distinction is critical. Misinformation or Disinformation is a status of the information, and not of the myriad intents of potential people (or no people at all) who carry, promote, or alter it.

All of these conditions of information, are passed simultaneously and serially among layers of organization, intelligence and syndicate compartment, and series of individuals or authorities – all of whom are both sincere and insincere in their intent at the same time. All of whom also add their own spin.

The Problem of Intent:

Verschlimmbesserung – (German) to make something worse while trying to make it better. The fallacy of judging disasters by the measure that, those who bore the ‘good intentions’ should bear no fault, or place themselves as disconnected from the disaster.

A Lopsided Intent-Based Delineation is Disinformation Itself

Exhibit 1 – Intent vs Logic Based Delineationmost people do not perceive that they are being played from both ends of the disinformation and misinformation spectrum, not just one of them. Through declaring one end bad through intent and the other ‘good’, one has lost both the battle and the war.

This black arrow on the lower left hand side of Exhibit 1, is what one might call the ‘make it simple for me’ propaganda channel. The absolute hallmark of disinformation is, that it is most always crafted to be simple – which along with other treatments (see The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation) are collectively termed as ‘smoothed’ in this chart.

Therefore, as one may observe in the above chart, intent is not a workable basis of delineation between misinformation and disinformation. Intent is an extra layer of discernment and complicatedness (Ockham’s Razor) one brings to the party before knowing anything at all. The problems of establishing an intent-based lopsided Wittgenstein footprint delineation include:

  1. Since all Misinformation is only innocent in context, propaganda (the Intelligence definition) can never exist. Only conspiracy theory can exist.
  2. A mutual exclusivity becomes a fortiori between Authority-Governance-Media (who only make mistakes, but bear only objective to good intent) and Malinformation. An exclusivity which forces all Disinformation (and therefore Conspiracy Theory) to reside outside the footprint of Authority-Governance-Media.
  3. Authority-Governance-Media can disinform all they please, as there is no term which exists to describe malicious activity on their part – just as long as they never say anything provably ‘100% wrong’ (Wittgenstein Context Error).
  4. This serves to establish the false dilemma, that if one questions The Narrative in the slightest, one is therefore a Conspiracy Theorist.
  5. Finally, this bifurcation falsely reassures Narrative Ninnies, that they are indeed correct.

Through an ‘intent’ bifurcation, one essentially establishes the standard,
that as long as one employs the terms ‘fact’ and ‘conspiracy theory’ –
they therefore have earned a license to lie.

Moreover, as a result

  • A lie would change constantly back and forth from misinformation to disinformation and back as it was passed through a chain of command or syndicate, crony network – until becoming inevitably altered through a series of individuals, various levels of awareness and intent, and into the market of information.
  • Information can be stripped of intent when it enters the marketplace of ideas to begin with. What does it become then? No longer disinformation? Baloney. This is exactly what fact-checkers thrive upon – assumed lack of agency.
  • Discerning of ‘intent’ adds another unnecessary layer of uncertainty and complicatedness into the already shaky discourse around a science. This is an unwise activity from a philosophical standpoint, and should be avoided whenever possible.
  • Through this type of value chain, if the definition were based upon solely intent, all disinformation would eventually devolve into misinformation in the market/field as it encountered more gullibility (less intent to deceive). Propaganda could never therefore exist at a level of accountability. It would perpetually wear the costume of innocent ‘misinformation’.
  • A person can claim exculpatory status from maliciousness and propaganda simply by claiming ‘I was mistaken’ – when no such thing was true (and because there is no such status as ‘distaken’) and where indeed they purposely surrendered their diligence to an authority they knew to be disinformative.
  • Finally, Trojan Disinformation (misinformation which is purposely loaded with internal clues as to its falsehood) can be passed freely as propaganda and never be described. Since it is ‘misinformation’, it is also therefore not disinformation nor propaganda. A wonderful sleight-of-hand by means of semantics.

Trojan Disinformation and Controlled Opposition

A set of data or observation which is passed to an opposition group anonymously, which appears at face value to support their contentions – however, which also contains an often subtle but irrefutable feature which will serve to falsify the set of data or observation at a later time, well after it has already gone viral inside the opposing camp. This is a Trojan Horse style of disinformation, which is sold as misinformation (innocent mistake); disinformation designed to discredit opposing voices through their credulity and lack of attention to detail.

Trojan Disinformation is often released by controlled opposition. Vladimir Lenin said “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” With Trojan Disinformation you both lead, mislead, and spotlight the opposition all at once.

Such tactics are detected by their channel, schema, and structure – and not by means of the intent of various individuals involved. The ethical skeptic knows that it is not actually their job (although it is human nature to do so) to psychically discern the intent of the person they are deliberating with across the table. We are not playing poker when deliberating science, philosophy, and truth. We are not trying to win a kitty or ego-stoking argument. This is how tribes and polarization foment, as everyone begins to distrust everyone on the opposing side, from expertly reading their ‘intent’ – rather than focusing upon the logical calculus at hand.

Of course we have seen the results of that working basis of definition. It is therefore high time for a new and Wittgenstein accurate one.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Disinformation vs Misinformation – Neither Has Anything To Do with ‘Intent’”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 10 Mar 2022; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=63633