The phrase fake news was highly popularized around the time of the 2016 election. While it was meant to describe political news that often bordered on satire but which certainly convinced many people and was shared across social media, the use of the term has spread. Mainstream media (like CNN) and alternative media outlets (like Info Wars) often accuse each other of publishing fake news.
While the phrase “fake news” is not new, it became a trending topic in early/mid November 2016 and in relation to the 2016 presidential election.
These were generally completely fabricated and hyper-partisan stories that often went viral, and generally outperformed real news, as well as any fact-checking follow ups to the fake news. These were spread on social media (especially Facebook, who took heat for having a “fake news problem“). Politifact even gave awarded “Fake News” their 2016 Lie of the Year award. Google even recently released a “fact check” tool to help combat fake news in its search results. Read more
Summary: With the phrase “fake news” being tossed around, often with little context, many are left wondering what the term means. In this post, we’ll explain what is generally regarded as fake news organizations: Sources that (likely knowingly) frame narratives by publishing rumors or falsehoods and omitting easily obtainable facts and basic context in order to support a conspiracy theory. In this example, we’ll cover InfoWars.
The term “fake news” has gained prominence in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, with some claiming that fake news stories affected the actual outcome. The term itself has taken on different meanings:
- Satirical news, often ‘obviously’ fake (ie. The Onion)
- Purportedly real news stories with little/no fact checking, often times with a forced narrative with the intention of advancing an agenda (ie. InfoWars).
- A hybrid of the above: clearly fake news but confusing to readers (often intentionally) with the intention of driving a specific narrative (ie. ‘The Pope endorses Trump‘).
Here we’ll deal with the 2nd version, explain WHY sources like Info Wars are regarded as fake news, and explain why this should not be conflated with the occasional errors or even slight bias encountered in mainstream new sources. While the latter is unfortunate, comparing an imperfect journalistic process with the narrative-driven process that intentionally distorts the truth and omits basic fact checking is a false equivalence. It should also be noted that fake news organizations drive a sort of race to the bottom, as fake news stories often outperform real news in terms of engagement (in a business model where viewer impressions determine ad revenue, the lifeblood of online news sources).