The UK is banning the term “fake news” in official documents.
The motivation behind this move is that the government thinks that the word is too broad and is urging people to employ more specific phrases such as “disinformation” and “misinformation” instead. This isn’t just due to some bureaucrats’ personal preferences, however, but because the state plans to more effectively wage information warfare and defend itself from the same, which is why it needs to be as precise as possible when it comes to tackling these tasks. The two suggested replacement terms practically mean the same thing though with the important difference being that disinformation is deliberately false while misinformation is unintentionally so, but both work to sow discord and division in societies and are much more easily weaponizable in today’s interconnected age.
One of the most important functions of any intelligence agency is to determine the intent of their targets or whoever pops up on their radar, whether they’re an internal actor or an external one. In the context of fighting “fake news”, the UK is trying to improve the operational efficiency of its analysts by forcing them to discern between disinformation and misinformation instead of just lumping together whatever politically relevant narratives that they come across as “fake news” for convenience’s sake. There’s a big difference between a fabricated news story, an analysis that deceives its intended audience through the omission of key facts, and a poorly written op-ed that inadvertently confuses people more than it conveys whatever it is that the author wants to opine about.
The most troubling aspect about all of this, however, is that the British government could abuse this new stance to censor free speech on social media. The Telegraph reported that the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS) Committee, whose inquiry prompted this policy, wrote in its interim report earlier this summer that “With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the Government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement.” This makes it obvious that the government is indeed preparing to crack down and “regulate” disinformation and misinformation, which might even lead to shutting down accounts that criticize Prime Minister May’s Brexit strategy if they’re determined to have met that subjective criterion.
After all, the difference between disinformation and misinformation is largely intent, and determining that in the highly charged political context of Brexit will probably come down to the overseer’s opinion.