Here are media manipulation terms needed to understand mis-, dis-, and malinformation

Understanding dis-, mis-, and malinformation will require some key terms. Here are the media manipulation definitions to know.


Disinformation, or information that is shared with the intent to mislead people, is increasingly a global phenomenon. It has become more prevalent with the rise of social media and the digital economy and a lack of digital and media literacy among consumers of online media.1

Disinformation is often used as a catch-all term for all false information, but it is distinguished from misinformation by its purposeful intent to deceive.

Misinformation, on the other hand, is false information spread by someone who believes false information to be true. The impact of disinformation and misinformation can be the same. Whether false information is shared intentionally or not, it is still dangerous.

Malinformation is a deliberate publication of private information for personal or private interest, as well as the deliberate manipulation of genuine content. This is often done by moving private or revealing information about an individual, taken out of context, into the public sphere.


Astroturfing: An organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).

Bots: Social media accounts that are operated entirely by computer programs and are designed to generate posts and/or engage with content on a particular platform.

Clickbait: Something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.2 This tactic involves creating a misleading or inaccurate post using a provocative headline or image that lures the victim to click and read the content, which is often unrelated or less sensational than the headline itself.

Content Farm: A website or company that creates low-quality content aimed at improving its search engine rankings. Also known as a content mill or factory, its main purpose is to maximize page views and revenue generated by advertising on those pages while minimizing the costs and time needed to create the content.3

Cyber Troops: Government or political party actors tasked with the use of social media to manipulate public opinion online.4

Gaslighting: Technique of deception and psychological manipulation practiced by a deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on victims over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victims’ confidence in their own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering them pathologically dependent on the gaslighter.5

Manufactured Amplification: Occurs when the reach or spread of information is boosted through artificial means.6

Microtargeting: To direct tailored advertisements, political messages, etc., at (people) based on detailed information about them (such as what they buy, watch, or respond to on a website); to target (small groups of people) for highly specific advertisements or messages.7

Sock Puppets: A sock puppet is an online account that uses a false identity designed specifically to deceive. Sock puppets are used on social platforms to spread or amplify false information to a mass audience.8

Trolling: The act of deliberately posting offensive or inflammatory content to an online community with the intent of provoking readers or disrupting conversation. The term “troll” is most often used to refer to any person harassing or insulting others online.9

Troll Farm: A group of individuals engaging in trolling or bot-like promotion of narratives in a coordinated fashion.

These definitions and text were originally published in the Disinformation Primer and authored by USAID in Feb 2021



Storyful Intelligence. (2018, September 24). Misinformation and Disinformation. White paper. Storyful.




Bradshaw, S., & Howard, P. N. (2018). Challenging truth and trust: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation. Computational Propaganda Research Project.


Duignan, B. Gaslighting. Encyclopedia entry. Britannica.


Hartz, J. (2018). Supporting information integrity and civil political discourse. NDI.



Wardle, C. (2018, July). Information Disorder: The essential glossary. Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics & Public Policy.


Wardle, C. (2018, July). Information Disorder: The essential glossary. Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics & Public Policy.; Hartz, J. (2018). Supporting information integrity and civil political discourse. NDI.