The term fake news refers to news stories that contain misinformation in order to deliberately misinform or deceive the public. It is a form of propaganda that is commonly used to influence the views of the general public or to attain spread political motives.
Description: This article defines fake news, identifies its purpose, and illustrates how it impacts society.
A lot of you read online or in newspapers, or hear on news stations may appear to be true, but in reality, are anything but true. Instead, it is a fabricated story that aims to misinform the public, sway their opinion, cause confusion, or push a political motive. Often, fake news is created and shared because the outcome of such information can prove to be profitable for a business or can help a political figure achieve his or her agenda.
Fake news is appears to be authentic news, but in reality, the information is fabricated and/or based on opinions. The aim of such news is to achieve a specific goal that would usually be viewed as negative or undesirable by the general public.
The History of Fake News
Fake news isn’t new. It has been around for millennia. People of power and governments have spread falsified information or opinions under the disguise of real news as a way to attract more support and increase their popularity.
Augustus, a Roman statesman who served as the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, used fake news to gain victory over Marc Anthony in the last war of the Roman Republic. Adolf Hitler, the infamous Chancellor of Germany and the head of the Nazi Party, also used fake news to fuel his political agenda.
The Increase of Fake News
Though fake news has existed for millennia, it was clearly biased. Add to that the fact that people became more accustomed to mass communication, and it was easier for people to differentiate between fake news and real news.
In recent years, however, fake news has become more widespread, and it’s now more difficult to differentiate between factual and fabricated information. This is largely thanks to the Internet and social media.
Before the Internet and social media existed, news was acquired from authoritative sources, reliable journalists, and reputable news outlets that were required to adhere to strict codes of conduct. However, the Internet has made it possible for information to be published, shared, and consumed by the general public. The editorial standards for this information are very low, as is the regulation.
With billions of people accessing the Internet and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for news, it can be hard to tell if a story is credible and based on factual information, or if it is non-credible and based on fabricated information. The abundance of information coupled with the fact that many people do not take the time to fact-check the information that they read on the Internet and social media channels has led to an overabundance of fake news stories.
Kinds of Fake News
There are different types of fake news. In terms of evaluating online content, it is important to understand the different types of fake news so that you can identify it.
The most common types of fake news include:
- Satire/parody. This type of fake news does not aim to cause harm, but rather is intended to be comical; however, it has the potential to fool readers. Examples of satire/parody can be found on sites like the Onion and Daily Mash.
- Misleading content. This fake news attempts to mislead the public as a way to support a narrative that has been on-going. This news is not established on truth, but rather on opinions. Conspiracy theories are an example of misleading content.
- Intentionally deceptive. This “news” has been fabricated specifically for the purpose of attracting more visitors to a website and earning more advertising revenue. Clickbait is a perfect example of intentionally deceptive fake news. It uses headlines that have been sensationalized in order to grab the attention of readers and increase click-throughs to the website of the publisher.
- Propaganda. These are stories that are deliberately crafted to mislead readers. They promote a biased point of view or a specific political agenda. Propaganda is often used by political figures as a way to achieve their goals.
- Misleading headlines. This type of fake news involves stories that are not necessarily false, but that feature misleading headlines that can distort the meaning of the story. This type of fake news tends to spread quickly, as only the headlines and a select few paragraphs of the story are displayed.
- Sloppy reporting. Some journalists publish stories that contain information that has not been fact-checked and is unreliable. The information contained in the story fits the agenda, but because it isn’t reliable or fact-checked, it can mislead readers. An example of sloppy reporting is the “Election Day Guide” that was published by Urban Outfitters, which stated that a voter registration card was needed in order to vote; however, this is not a requirement in any US state.
How to Identify Fake News
The rise of fake news has lead to serious societal issues, creating divides and pinning groups of people against each other. It is important to know how to identify fake news to avoid spreading it and further fueling its negative consequences.
There are several ways you can identify fake news:
- Check the sources of the story. Are they reputable? Is the site authoritative? If the answer to both questions is “no”, chances are that the news is fake.
- Read beyond the headline. A lot of fake news stories publish sensationalized headlines in order to grab the attention of readers. They can be shocking and are often printed in bold text, all caps, and are punctuated with exclamation points.
- Check out other sources. Find out if reputable news and media outlets are also reporting on the same story.
- Check the URL. A lot of fake news stories use URLs that are similar to reputable news sources, but make minute changes to their URL.