IATE Term of the Week: Information warfare


We live in a society where huge amounts of information are produced and disseminated every second thanks to the Internet and to the popularity of mass and social media. In this context of excess of information, sources and media literacy have become increasingly relevant to combat fake news, hate speech, political propaganda and post-truth politics. The European Parliament is aware of these risks and is promoting actions to help citizens deal with the constant bombarding of information that is not always truthful. It is for this reason that our chosen IATE Term of the Week is information warfare.

Loudspeakers black and white

Burns (1999) defines information warfare as a “class of techniques, including collection, transport, protection, denial, disturbance, and degradation of information, by which one maintains an advantage over one’s adversaries“. This general definition reveals the inherent complexity of this concept when applied to our day-to-day activities: information is produced, bought and sold at the speed of light to influence the stock market, the popularity of a given politician, the dissemination of a particular environmental issue or the promotion of a sports event.

Social media have allowed the democratisation of access to information and represent the main source of news for more than 50% of European citizens, although recent studies show that 6 out of 10 news shared on social media have not actually been read. The power of social media to shape public opinion is, thus, evident, and their ability to reach a great audience in very little time has contributed to making it easier and faster to spread fake news, i.e. social media can be considered a powerful tool of information warfare. The purpose to disseminate fake information varies depending on the type of information and the effect it may have on the population. Some fake news items seek to attract traffic to a particular website (also known as “clickbait“), while others are really intended to deliberately dis-inform or misinform readers by generating a social reaction against or in favour of a particular issue or personality. In any case, the mechanisms used to ensure the sharing and spreading of fake content until it becomes viral include appealing titles, provoking speech and timing strategies.

A recent plenary debate in Parliament that took place on the 5th of April, 2017 showed the EP’s concerns regarding this issue, which had already been called upon by former EP President Martin Schulz, and also evidenced that there is no agreement among MEPs on how to address and mitigate the proliferation of political propaganda, hate speech and fake news. A group of MEPs was in favour of using legislation to address this issue, some of which claimed the imposition of fines on those who fail to eliminate fake news or illegal content, whereas other MEPs raised the concern on who is to decide what hate speech is and what it is not. Other MEPs expressed their concerns regarding the introduction of measures to limit online freedom of speech, supported by those who considered it “naive” to combat fake news through regulation.

Here you can see the entry for information warfare in IATE:

IATE entry Information warfare

[su_note note_color=”#dcea0f”][su_button url=”https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1tjHR_b861rr_MbrjhNVfLxtG2YXFPQAZoemcwUvJpVs/edit#” style=”flat”]Contribute to IATE![/su_button] Update this term in your language. A terminologist for the respective language will revise your answer and decide whether to validate them. Given the implications of the process, a delay is to be expected.


We invite you to read other previous IATE terms of the week that are somehow connected with the topic of information warfare:

IATE_term_of_the_week_Information warfare

You might also want to check the sources in this post for more information on the actions taken by the EU institutions to mitigate the current information warfare. We hope you have enjoyed the post and we encourage you to contribute to IATE with any terminological proposals!

Written by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. She is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).


  • Bentzen, Naja (2017) “‘Fake news’ and the EU’s response”, At a glance-European Parliamentary Research Service. Available at: http://bit.ly/2pGG33f (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • Bentzen, Naja (2017) “How to spot when news is fake”, At a glance-European Parliamentary Research Service. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oqlNSt (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • Burns, Megan (1999) Information Warfare: What and How?, Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oOveOg (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • EC Press Service (2016) “European Commission and IT Companies announce Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech”, Press Release Database, European Commission. Available at: http://bit.ly/2pjjKUC (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (n.d.) Hate crime. Avaialable at: http://bit.ly/2oZvDhd (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • EP Press Service (2017) “Fake news: how to counter misinformation”, European Parliament News. Available at: http://bit.ly/2o7O700 (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • EP Press Service (2017) “Tackling propaganda: “It’s a continuation of methods used during the Cold War””, European Parliament News. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oZiXHf (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • EP Press Service (2017) “Hate speech and fake news: remove content, impose fines, foster media literacy?”, European Parliament News. Available at: http://bit.ly/2ov34Vh (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • Flemming Rose (2017) “The problem with Hate Speech Laws in Europe”, El País. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oqsLH3 (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • Lewis, Brian C. (n.d.) “Information warfare”, Federation of American Scientists. Available at: http://bit.ly/2ov6aZ5 (Accessed 20 April, 2017)
  • Stupples, David (2015) “What is information warfare?”, World Economic Forum. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oqtDeN (Accessed 20 April, 2017)