Dissecting the phenomenon of fake news
THE advancement of the internet has enabled people to obtain and distribute news messages at a rapid pace. Most of us now use social media websites and other online platforms to obtain news.
The rapid distribution of news on the internet has changed the practice of the news industry. Some of the news reports may contain fake or false facts deliberately or inadvertently.
For the purpose of attracting public attention, some media groups may overstate the news, while some may even fabricate or twist the contents.
Due to the fact that it is easy to register multiple accounts using fake information on social media, some of these social media are full of fake accounts, which are used to deliver fake news.
Moreover, spammers and fake news spreaders also use social media to spread fake news. Many in the news industry no longer verify the contents of the news reports for better accuracy.
Rather, more and more news reporters are not asked to provide news reports as quickly as they can in order to grab the attention of the audience.
This is the reason that reporters now rarely have sufficient time to check and verify the information they have collected.
For this very reason, some of the news reports may contain incorrect facts. These incorrect articles are spread over the internet, making it full of fake or false content.
Fake news, an issue that has accelerated in recent years, has existed for long, but relatively a few people are aware of the presence of fake news.
In the 2016 US Presidential election, the issue of fake news was huge. In fact, it was after 2016 that the term fake news became mainstream as hundreds of websites published falsified or heavily biased stories with the term being popularized by former US President Donald Trump.
Fake news is not simply false information. News reports that contain incorrect news may not always be considered as fake news because people believe that the reporters do not deliver the incorrect news intentionally.
However, people consider news reports with some facts to be fake because reporters exaggerate the contents of news.
Several terms are used interchangeably; for example, fake news, news satire, pseudo-news, hoax news, propaganda news, advertorial, false information, fake information, misinformation, disinformation and alternative fact.
The terms can be divided into two categories: terms with similar meaning to fake news and terms with similar meaning to false information.
Essentially, fake news discusses the news that is put out by the media. False information is information that is distributed over the internet.
False information can be spread alone via the internet or it can be included in fake news. Thus, false information and its related terms have a larger range of scope compared with fake news.
Fake news does not always report non-existent news stories. It seldom happens that the whole news story is fabricated, although pure fabrication is still a possible source of false information.
In general, fake news refers to news that contains wrong or false information but do not report the incorrectness of information.
However, not all papers adopt this definition of fake news. Some define fake news as news that is intentionally written to mislead the readers but can be verified to be false.
This definition raises the issue as to who has the authority and the ability to decide if news is purposely written to mislead the audience.
If a news does not purposely include the incorrect facts, should it be deemed fake news or not?
The central concept is that fake news is news with incorrect facts, whereas the motive is an accompanying issue when discussing fake news.
However, not all incorrect facts are spread intentionally; some are spread unintentionally, though.
There exist multiple meanings of fake news that need to be clarified. On the other hand, there are some terms with similar meanings to fake news.
Junk news, pseudo-news, alternative fact and hoax are terms with similar meanings to fake news.
In this case, fake news refers to inaccurate facts distributed on the internet in the sense that the inaccurate facts are spread online rather than in the format of news reports.
These inaccurate or incorrect messages are named as disinformation, misinformation and rumours that are related to fake news.
News satire, yellow journalism, junk news, pseudo-news, hoax news, propaganda news, advertorial are terms with similar meanings to fake news.
Some people may consider these terms as synonyms for fake news. For example, some people may consider news satire as fake news since news satire is not real news.
Some may believe yellow journalism is a type of fake news because it is the use of sensational headlines, rather than factual news, to capture a reader’s attention.
Some may consider fake news as junk news since fake news is also meaningless like trash but disseminated in bulk.
How to avoid fake news: You can protect yourself from falling for fake news by learning to recognise fake news by being curious and actively investigating what you read and listen to, by using news sources that are accountable for their content and that follow journalistic ethics and standards, by taking care before sharing news with others on social media, by pausing and reflecting on news and information that arouse strong emotions and last but not the least you have to learn to recognise your own biases and atone for them.
—The writer is Assistant Editor, Safety and Security Today Magazine, based in Islamabad.