Glossary of Disinformation Related Terminology


Climate alarmism: A type of misinformation, that includes making exaggerated claims about climate change that are not supported by the scientific literature. There is a negligible amount of literature about climate alarmism compared to climate skepticism, suggesting it is significantly less prevalent (Treen et al, 2020). Those who support science are often incorrectly portrayed as “climate alarmists” (Cook et al, 2019). Environmental groups have been criticized for using sensationalized content such as the rhetoric of dangerous or apocalyptic climate change that is only loosely based on climate science to elicit an emotional response and raise awareness of the issue of climate change (MacKay and Munro, 2012; Rothe, 2012; Zelko, 2004). However, environmental groups tend to be much more reflective of scientific viewpoints than the positions of climate science deniers.


Climate change denial and skepticism: The people, companies and organizations who subscribe to this view distrust climate science. They tend to misconstrue the meaning of scientific uncertainty and claim this leaves room to question whether climate change is occurring which has justified inaction. Climate change misinformation is intricately linked to climate change skepticism, denial, and contrarianism. People who subscribe to this view are “skeptical” about the veracity of climate change and/or about the human contribution to global warming. They reject the global scientific consensus that the planet’s climate is changing, that it is being driven mainly by the accumulation of carbon pollution in the atmosphere from humans burning coal, oil, and natural gas, and that there will be severe adverse impacts on health and safety unless that pollution is slashed (Meyer, 2021). A network of actors are involved in financing, producing, and amplifying misinformation (Treen, Williams and O’Neill, 2020). Climate change denialism or skepticism was considered a valid viewpoint in the early 1990s in the broader climate discourse but is now considered to be invalid (Belamy, 2020). However, climate change denialism and skepticism persist in Western Society because disinformation campaigns by large oil companies which promoted ideas of climate skepticism and denial are inherently difficult to correct once they have been incorporated into individuals’ worldviews due to cognitive psychological processes (Belamy, 2020)) Climate denial skepticism is being mixed in with other conspiratorial content like COVID-19 skepticism (Meyer, 2021).


Climate change denial machine: Fossil fuel-funded disinformation groups involved in producing misinformation/disinformation. These groups are referred to as the “climate change denial machine” (see also disinformation campaigns). This group includes political and religious organizations, contrarian scientists, and online groups masquerading as grassroots organizations (known as “astroturfing”). People in positions of power, such as the media, politicians, and prominent bloggers, then repeat and amplify this information in an “influencers echo chamber” and from there it reaches a wider audience (Tween et al, 2020).


Collaboration and cooperation: Government efforts to provide informal opportunities for interaction between stakeholders. This includes developing structures to support networking, referrals, and collaboration across sectors.

Command and control efforts: This includes government regulation and other mandatory restraints permits, codes and standards related to governance arrangements and policy activities.


Confirmation bias: The tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision-making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information.

Disinformation: Outright false information that is deliberately intended to be misleading or biased. The key is the intent to deceive. Disinformation exploits people’s tendency to believe information that aligns with their worldviews and refutes information that does not independent of its veracity (Lewandowsky et al., 2013). Treen et all define disinformation as a subset of misinformation (Treen et al, 2020).

Disinformation campaigns: When disinformation activities move from sporadic and haphazard to organized and systematic efforts, they become disinformation campaigns (West, 2017). They often utilize a spin of a particular topic that is more subtle than fake news or outright lies. They can be more difficult to detect but they still serve to manipulate or influence the target audience (Belamy, 2020)). Disinformation campaigns rooted in climate skepticism or denial can sometimes use science in intentionally misleading ways, but they are not based in science (Belamy, 2020)). Disinformation campaigns have been successful in creating confusion and uncertainty on the issue of climate change and this has slowed concerted action (Kolmes, 2011).

Effectiveness of governance arrangements: Success in achieving stated public policy objectives, specifically the success at eliminating environmental harm, correcting/compensating for market failures, and forcing actors to take responsibility. This includes fiscal tools that modify behavior and ensure that actors bear most of the costs. This extends to education, creation of culture. Governance efforts evolve and become more complex to deal with the complexity of the issue and provide maximum societal benefit, often involving a multidimensional approach. This can take the form of matching sustainability objectives with social concerns and the creation of a hierarchy when multiple objectives are involved.

Fake news: Inaccurate information commonly generated by outlets that masquerade as actual media sites. They promulgate false or misleading accounts designed to deceive the public. This is one of three distinct categories that include misinformation, or “mistakes”; disinformation, or “lies” and “hoaxes”, which are false and spread deliberately to deceive (Henley, 2020).

Governance: A set of processes by which we manage the affairs of a given society towards some objective(s). In other words, we can say that it is a theoretical concept as to what we want as a nation or society.

Institutions: Tools of governance to achieve stated objectives. A set of formal rules or informal norms or shared understandings constrain and prescribe political actors’ interactions with one another (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Malinformation: Gossip which may perhaps be correct but is intended to harm. (Henley, 2020)

Misinformation: Misleading information that is created and spread, regardless of whether there is intent to deceive. In the context of climate change research, misinformation may be seen in the types of behavior and information which cast doubt on well-supported theories, or in false information which attempts to discredit climate science. Treen sees disinformation as a subset of misinformation (Treen et al, 2020).

Motivated reasoning: A phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology that uses emotionally biased reasoning to produce justifications or make decisions that are most desired rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence, while still reducing cognitive dissonance.

Nonstate institutions (also called nonstate actors): Institutions are owned by individuals and organizations who are capable of influencing policies but not connected to Government agencies.


Nonstate actors: Includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multinational corporations, private military organizations, media outlets, terrorist groups, organized ethnic groups, academic institutions, lobby groups, criminal organizations, labor unions or social movements, and others.


Policy instruments: Techniques of governance used by public authorities to achieve policy objectives.


Political Institutions: Structures of a political system that carry out the work of governing. This can include executives, legislatures, bureaucracies, and the judicial system.

Public actors: These are actors who act in a promoter role when they make active efforts to stimulate processes of innovation. This role is often associated with more traditional forms of government, and the policy instruments including regulations and legislation.


Regulation: A rule or mechanism that limits, steers, or otherwise controls social behavior.


Social license to operate (SLO): The perceptions of local stakeholders that a project, a company, or an industry that operates in each area or region is socially acceptable or legitimate.

State institution: Those institutions that are owned by governments.