In 2016, it was “post-truth.”
In 2017, it was “fake news.”
This year, misinformation is the word of the year.
In a press release sent to Poynter, Dictionary.com said it chose the word — which it defines as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” — amid the growing role of technology platforms in spreading fakery online.
"Recognizing misinformation as the 2018 word of the year following identity (2015), xenophobia (2016) and complicit (2017) reveals once again the perspective that we can gain by thinking about the words of our time," said Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com, in the release. "The emergence of a lexicon to describe misinformation alone is a telling sign.”
The runners-up for Dictionary.com’s 2018 word of the year were “representation,” “self-made” and “backlash.”
“The recent explosion of misinformation and the growing vocabulary we use to understand it have come up again and again in the work of our lexicographers," said Jane Solomon, linguist-in-residence at Dictionary.com, in the release. "Over the last couple of years, Dictionary.com has been defining words and updating terms related to the evolving understanding of misinformation.”
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The site’s choice of “misinformation” instead of the widely used “disinformation” was purposeful. While the latter implies intent to mislead, the former does not. When people share misinformation, they often believe the content to be true — even if the original sharer had malintent, according to Dictionary.com.
The company cited several events over the past year that contributed to its decision to choose “misinformation” as word of the year. Among them include the continued role of Facebook in spreading hoaxes, the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory, WhatsApp rumors that led to mob violence in India and widespread misinformation during the Brazilian election.
And Dictionary.com is just the latest dictionary to choose a misinformation-related term as its word of the year.
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” (“relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”). In 2017, Collins Dictionary opted for “fake news” (“false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”)