Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation in Corporations

07.02.23 10:02 AM By Matt Koopmans

Unless you have been leading the life-style of a hermit, you realise that nothing you see, hear, or read can be trusted at face-value. Mis-, dis-, and malinformation are the talking-points of the day for governments, NGO's, certain social media platforms, and mainstream media. 

Let's review one more time the definitions. 

  • Misinformation - information that is factually incorrect, but the person disseminating this information is not aware of this. Misinformation spreads without intent to obscure the truth
  • Disinformation - information that is factually incorrect, and the person disseminating it is fully aware of the lack of truthfulness. This is intentional
  • Malinformation - this is a relatively new term, and the definitions are changing (you can decide whether that is a result of mis- or disinformation). The definition we will work with in this article, is that the information is factual, but considered "harmful" - either to a person (i.e. leaking personal facts about someone, such as doxxing, may be considered malinformation), to an organisation, a government, or a program (i.e. vaccine side-effects are often considered malinformation). 
With these definitions in mind, we will apply this to a corporate setting - as the propagation of unfactual information is not limited to the geo-political arena.

The evolution of information

All information starts as data. If you describe data as an uncategorised collection of facts, then it becomes clear that data needs to be put "in formation" in order to draw any conclusions and plan any meaningful further actions. Data in formation = information. 

If you have read the article "Lies, Damn Lies, and Spreadsheets" then you are familiar with the tools used to manipulate data into presentable information (read: information that makes the presenter look good).

Where disinformation is introduced willingly, misinformation is a natural succession to disinformation: how is the recipient of disinformation to know? Other than looking into the data yourself, you can't, and you won't. The question now is: what could be the motivation for disinformation? 

At the heart of any information, there is data. The cynic may say "Data is truth before manipulation". Truth has a way of surfacing - like a trying to hold a beach-ball under water, you cannot do that, not for very long anyway.

When disinformation is introduced into the chain, the data itself remains unchanged. Any analysis to bring the data back into formation could then be considered by the purveyors of the disinformation as malinformation - it may be based on fact, but it it darn inconvenient.

Malinformation keeps bubbling up

In a large corporation, a consultant was asked to generate a report of the uptake of a new version of a popular product. The competition? Mainly the previous version of the product. 

The data showed a reasonably fast uptake, but nowhere near to what senior management committed to the highest echelons of the business. In other words - the data did not show the success they were aiming for. 

Instead of adjusting the strategy, it is much easier to "massage the information". The consultant is on contract - which would or would not be extended depending on how favourable the information produced is to the person hiring the consultant. Enter disinformation. The problem is, no mater how you massage the data, eventually the market reality will be clear for all to see

Last exit to reality

Imagine the corporation, where the disinformation trickles upwards to the highest management - where the disinformation is plausibly transformed into misinformation to the board of directors and the shareholders. Shareholders that includes institutionalised funds, which in turn uses our money to invest into these businesses based on a misrepresentation of data.

Is it difficult to get the data back into an actionable form? Yes and no. The larger the corporation, the more the data is spread over multiple systems, and the more complicated (read: expensive and prone to failure) a business intelligence project becomes. And who wants to allocate budget on a project that presents not only risk in execution, but risk to those very people funding it where the "malinformation" cannot be manipulated before moving up the chain.

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Matt Koopmans