• Posted on: 17/04/2023
  • 3 minutes to read

The Disinformation Project is an independent research project looking at misinformation and disinformation within New Zealand. Kerry Davies (National Secretary, PSA) sat down with Kate Hannah from the Disinformation Project to find out what is disinformation, how it is playing a part in our members’ jobs and what we can do to counter it.

To first understand what disinformation is, we need to understand the different types of disinformation, what they are called and what they mean. Kate explained that there are three types of disinformation:

  • Misinformation: “false information created without the intent to hurt others.”
  • Disinformation: “false information created with the intention of harming a person, group, or organisation.”
  • Malinformation: “true information used with ill intent.”

Who is influenced by misinformation and why?

Interestingly, Public Service workers are less likely to be influenced by misinformation. Kate says that is due to their roles requiring lateral/critical thinking. A lateral/critical thinker will question the source and investigate to validate the information.

However, simple and accessible information is often taken for granted in increasingly time-poor societies.

How is the spread of misinformation and disinformation affecting how our members are treated? Kate Hannah

Kate explains that when language is consistently used to undermine groups of people, these people lose their trustworthiness. Dehumanising language used towards others diminishes trust in these groups and can create an environment of concern and sometimes anxiety stemming from those who are the target of dehumanising language.

Public service workers are often labelled as “bureaucrats” or in some instances "bloated bureaucrats" which diminishes trust and fuels concern that resources are going to those who already are supposedly well resourced. Dehumanising public service workers through language suggests they are over-resourced and disconnected from the public. This undermines discussions about creating conditions for our public sector to thrive and to provide high-quality services to those who need them. In fact, it does the opposite. Targeting people through social media has become very frequent. The public service is one issue of a long list of hot-button issues such as vaccination, gender, race, religion, or sexuality.

The Disinformation Project is working with social media teams within ministry departments to ensure public messaging is clear and cuts through disinformation that would hinder people from being able to access vital public services.

Why are women public servants targeted more often?

Misogynist language is often used to de-humanise women’s ideas, knowledge and experience in society. Misogyny is based on the belief that women are worth less than men. It is often used to dis-credit women, to spread hatred and prejudice against women to maintain traditional social roles and responsibilities. Female public service workers are targeted by misogynist attacks. They are not safe from personal attacks via phone
or email.

What can be done to eliminate misinformation in the workforce?

The Disinformation Project is working with agencies to create deliberate strategies to try to counter some of the impacts on workers. Kate says success in countering these issues requires an all-hands approach: it needs to cover what leaders and managers can do and what people can do in their own teams. However, the biggest impact comes from having a practical approach that brings HR teams into play to create better transparency and associated support processes in place for workers.

Find out more about the Disinformation Project