People often confuse the definitions of misinformation and disinformation.

The former is defined as an intent to inform but with incorrect facts; the latter is defined as knowingly spreading false information.

Let’s talk about why the difference is important.

Pretend a Miss Cindy Lou sees an article pop up on her Facebook feed about goldfish developing cravings for human flesh. (Let’s say it’s a convincing read.) Pretend, against her better judgment, she believes it and shares the post. Let’s assume others believe it and start spreading the story, too.

Those people are misinformed. Hence, they are spreading misinformation.

In Cindy Lou’s defense, she wasn’t trying to spread a lie. She legitimately thought her pet fish, Goldie, had the potential to spontaneously morph into a piranha.

It sounds far-fetched.

But in a nutshell, this is how it starts.

In an age when an infinite amount of knowledge is available at our fingertips, it can be near impossible to sift through so much data to find the truth — even if the truth may appear blatantly obvious to others. Toss in factors like confirmation bias and echo chambers, and it’s no wonder like-minded individuals believe those contradicting them are uneducated.

Cindy Lou wasn’t out to convince the world of something she knew to be a lie. She informed others with false facts. Now, that’s not to excuse her ignorance. It does, however, show how easy it is to click “share” on an article of which someone may have only read the first few lines. (Or, even worse, just the headline, as is often the case.)

The term “fake news” once applied to fabricated stories not unlike the man-eating goldfish tale. Although we now have the internet to spread false information faster, fake news has been around for centuries.

Recall that rumors spread like wildfire. Besides, it’s much more interesting to talk about something like an otherwise passive fish harboring a carnivorous appetite than it is to talk about the weather.

“Fake news” has since morphed into the definition of disinformation, which has also been around for hundreds of years. It dates back to war times and is better known under the guise of “propaganda.” It’s described as deliberately misleading, manipulated or biased information, and it’s often spread for a purpose. Sometimes it’s for brainwashing, other times it’s for espionage. Take Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, for example. Or the Cold War.

Imagine growing up in North Korea, a country with a strict dictatorship and, consequently, major censorship. Propagandistic disinformation praises the government and vilifies other countries daily. You’ve been surrounded by bias, distorted content all your life, so why would you think otherwise? One word: brainwash.

Interestingly, when I searched online to fact-check myself on North Korea, the first few suggestions on Google were questions like: “Is North Korea dangerous to visit?” and “Can you leave North Korea?” Also, “Is the internet banned in North Korea?” All valid questions.

Disinformation, mixed in with a “Big Brother” government, looks something like that.

When former president Donald Trump uses the words “fake news” in regular context, he’s accusing the media as providers of disinformation: biased, purposely misleading news. He’s not just claiming news outlets are publishing incorrect stories; he’s claiming the media — which includes thousands of journalists nationwide — is attempting to sway the public in one direction.

The difference in these definitions is important.