Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

On the Difference or Equality of Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation: A Critical Research Perspective

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

On the Difference or Equality of Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation: A Critical Research Perspective

Article excerpt


The concept of information is clearly of central relevance for information systems (IS) research and practice. Many assume that information is central to managerial decision making and that more and higher quality information will lead to better outcomes. This assumption persists even though Ackoff (1967) has argued almost 40 years ago that it is misleading. One of the reasons for the longevity of this arguably naive reliance on IS to produce more and better information is a lack of conceptual clarity regarding the nature of "information".

There is no universally accepted theory or definition of truth. Yet, we have to use our everyday understanding of the term if we are to work with information. This leads to misunderstandings and problems. In this paper I address this conceptual problem from the point of view of critical research in information systems (CRIS). The paper starts with a review of the concept of information, emphasising the practical, involved and ethical nature of information. Another important characteristic of information is that it is held to be true. In order to demonstrate the problem of this belief, I briefly discuss the most prominent current theories of truth. The criterion of truth allows for the distinction between the concepts of information, misinformation, and disinformation. Having thus outlined the concept of information and some of its problems, the paper will give an overview of critical research in information systems. After defining CRIS, the paper introduces Jurgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, two of the main theorist of critical thought.,. For these two, truth and information have a different meaning from the one we traditionally associate with them. This means that, while one can still usefully distinguish between information and mis/dis-information, this can no longer be done from the objective perspective of the detached observer.

Based on the two competing theoretical foundations, the paper proceeds to analyse the meaning of information, misinformation, and disinformation in CRIS. Because of the different theories of truth, it is no longer possible to understand information as a correct description of a state of affairs. From the critical standpoint, one needs to consider question of consensus of those who are affected, but also questions of power and domination. Correspondingly, misinformation and disinformation change their character as well.

By the end of the paper the reader should have an appreciation of the fundamental problems of defining and determining information. The reader will furthermore develop a basic understanding of the value and approach of CRIS. While this approach does not offer any simple solutions, it is still immensely valuable because it allows us to frame questions differently and challenge the assumptions we usually take for granted. The paper demonstrates that what we often see as good and valid information may indeed be seen as disinformation and that the objectivist and positive perspective we usually associate with research can be misleading.

The paper leads to fundamental questions regarding the way we understand information, truth and research. It may therefore be uncomfortable reading for those who follow the established positivist paradigm without reflecting on these issues. It is not truly revolutionary, however, since the discourse on truth and disinformation has been ongoing for over 20 years (Hirschheim, 1985). It should be understood as one contribution to the difficult but necessary process of clarifying the philosophical issues upon which IS research and practice are built (Hirschheim, Klein & Lyytinen, 1995). A lack of understanding and clarity of such issues is not only academically and intellectually unsatisfying but arguably part of the reason for the continually high failure rate in IS.


This section deals with the conceptual basis of the paper by discussing the meaning of the concept of "information". …

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