Combatting Information Disorder

Article 4 min
Though referring to medicine, the line in the Hippocratic oath that states, "prevention is preferable to cure," is also accurate when discussing information disorder.

All harmful information (disinformation, misinformation and malinformation) that pollutes and permeates the information environment falls under the umbrella of information disorder. Information disorder disrupts the IE and makes it difficult for information forces like public affairs to conduct operations leveraging their information power. When the joint force can wield its informational power effectively, the commander has ample space for decision making and information advantage is achieved within the IE.

There are three components necessary to spread information disorder: agents, messages and interpreters. Agents are the actors who create, produce and distribute harmful information. The messages are the information that is communicated. Interpreters are those who receive, make sense of and take action on the message.

Stopping the Spread

Just one person transmitting the initial message can result in thousands of shares of harmful information. Preventing an initial message from spreading further can be more effective than trying to correct false information once it "goes viral." Although there is no way to prevent information disorder, there is a way to proactively educate your stakeholders so they can spot it.

When addressing information disorder, it's most effective to preemptively "prebunk" the harmful information, which is to disprove agents, messages and interpreters before the audience receives the message containing harmful information.

"A good prebunk addresses people’s concerns, speaks to their lived experience and compels them to share that knowledge."Garcia and Shane, 2021

To do this, you must present the truth in as many places as you can, while building and maintaining trust with your publics, as opposed to simply correcting the false information. Ideally, intertwine both facts and logic to allow people to not only spot the truth, but also attempts by agents to twist that truth to their advantage within their messages.

Unchecked, information disorder infects the entire information environment and spreads like a virus that just won't go away. Use each tactic below to see how to compete on the digital battlefield and prevent the next disinformation pandemic.

Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
VIRIN: 240403-D-ZW071-1002

Be present and content forward.

Conduct research to identify on which platforms your publics or stakeholders are active, and join them there. Give them the information they need, tailored to their demographics and behaviors, in a way that puts content front and center. Understand your role and engage them with relevant content that drives interaction.

Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
VIRIN: 240403-D-ZW071-1003

Leverage technology.

You must stay up to date on technology and ensure you are, at the least, as technologically savvy as your adversaries. Just thinking mobile-first and cross-media isn't enough; you must remember that social media is more about sociology and psychology than technology. Being aware of this can help you craft more effective strategies to engage your audience.

You can build an information web page, with links to all the products you're producing. By utilizing the link in your products and on your news sites, you can lead people to that page. Putting the truth all in one place allows you to post that link wherever necessary to combat misinformation through the use of technology.

Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
VIRIN: 240403-D-ZW071-1004

Be appealing while advancing your narrative.

A well-prepared offense is a surer way to advance your message and achieve victory than constantly remaining on the defensive, two steps behind. Use appealing, professional products when creating attractive, memorable content that evokes an emotional response with your stakeholders. Proactive strategies often lead to greater success than reactive measures.

You also must consider narratives. Narratives are complex topics and public affairs professionals must understand them to make the neutralization framework function. We can use three types of narratives: master, composite and complex to inform and influence perception and create measurable changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors.

Master narratives are precognitive accounts of events that shape perception and are unique to cultures and geographies. They are deeper societal structures that develop over longer periods of change or upheaval and eventually come to define a people.

Complex narratives, which are aggregated stories on a collection of similar topics, and composite narratives, which are aggregated complex narratives, should be carefully considered. Their distinction acknowledges the interconnectedness of stories and themes within a society. This allows for a more holistic understanding of how various narratives are informed by the overarching master narratives. It's important to deal with narratives at the appropriate societal level, avoiding oversimplification or over-complication. This helps in identifying the most relevant narratives for understanding societal dynamics and changes. Understanding and managing these narratives is vital, ensuring complex narratives are not discussed at the level of composite narratives or master narratives.

Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
VIRIN: 240403-D-ZW071-1005

Build brand and narrative advocacy.

Find and amplify those credible sources that are telling your story in their everyday lives. Reach out to them directly. If you're able to, incentivize brand ambassadorship and let your users help you grow awareness and loyalty. Collaborate with influencers to expand your reach and engage with a wider audience. Utilize social media platforms to showcase user-generated content and encourage community interaction. By nurturing these relationships with stakeholders, and leveraging user participation, you can enhance visibility and foster loyalty.

Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
Syringe with a shield in the background, surrounded by viruses
VIRIN: 240403-D-ZW071-1006

Safeguard publics against information disorder.

Protecting publics can sometimes be difficult to accomplish, as the vast majority of users don't want to be educated on social media. But they do like trading stories with friends. Strike that balance of posting engaging, interesting content and fostering conversations by proactively sharing anecdotes about digital literacy built in, and you're on the way to protecting them against information disorder. When harmful information pops up, you will be in a position to prebunk it, because users already know you share trustworthy information. When they see information disorder, they will remember the truthful stories you've already told.

We must prioritize informing our stakeholders and publics of the ways in which our adversaries attempt to influence and manipulate them through exposure to information disorder. The truth is our most powerful weapon, but we have to help our stakeholders detect disinformation, misinformation, malinformation and adversary psychological operations when they see them, and stop them before they spread.


Bialy, B. (2017). Social media — From social exchange to battlefield. The Cyber Defense Review (Vol. 2, No. 2)

Garcia, L. and Shane, T. (2021). A guide to prebunking: a promising way to inoculate against misinformation. First Draft.

Matejic, N. (2016). 3 Things Anthony Robbins reminded me about communication. LinkedIn.

Wardle, C. (2017). Information disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making.

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