The storm of false information that never stopped throughout 2018 has led Dictionary.com to name “misinformation” its annual “Word of the Year.”
While the word has been around since the late 1500s, it made a huge comeback this year as the amount of false information on the internet expanded.
“Our #WordOfTheYear2018 isn’t just any word. It’s a call to action. We’ll be sharing the tools to fight #misinformation all day today,” the site tweeted earlier today.
Since it’s an online dictionary, the website felt the need to explain the concept of the word, as it’s often confused with “disinformation.” The words are not interchangeable, the site explained in a report published Monday, and it’s important for people to be able to differentiate between the two,
Disinformation means “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda,” the site explained, while misinformation means “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”
“When people spread misinformation, they often believe the information they are sharing. In contrast, disinformation is crafted and disseminated with the intent to mislead others,” the report said, adding that being able to identify misinformation is crucial, because a piece of disinformation could become misinformation.
“When an individual sees this disinformation, believes it, and then shares it, that’s misinformation,” the report said.
Social media, and the ability millions of people have to share any information, has played a big role in delivering misinformation. Although not all misinformation is tied directly to politics, it’s one of the most sensitive areas, the report says.
One of the examples Dictionary.com gave was the abundance of fake political ads that ran across Facebook, as well the ban of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones across multiple platforms, like Twitter, YouTube and Apple. The President of the United States has also shared misinformation on social media.
“In early November, fact-checkers from the Washington Post shared their record of all the false or misleading claims President Trump has made since becoming president,” Dictionary.com said. “As of the time of that report, the count was at 6,420, an average of about 10 false or misleading claims a day. These claims are heard around the world and believed by many.”
Celebrities also play a big role in sharing misinformation, as many fans will quickly believe them.
“Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle empire GOOP paid $145,000 in civil penalties to settle a suit regarding misleading medical claims about the powers of jade and rose quartz vaginal eggs,” the report said.
Dictionary.com’s goal was not only to pick a most searched or used word, but to shed light to the importance of words in general.
“Armed with awareness, we can all do our best to recognize misinformation when we encounter it and work toward stopping its spread,” the report concluded.
Dictionary.com also named three runner-up words that we’ve seen a lot in 2018: representation, self-made and backlash.
Earlier this month, Oxford Dictionaries named “toxic” its word of the year.