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Fake News: Separating Truth From Fiction: 1. What Is Fake News?

1. Fake News Explained

Fake news is false or misleading information intended to deceive readers into believing it is credible and true information. Regarding fake news,  Sapna Maheshwari of the New York Times states that while some fake news is spread with the intent of "Seeking to make money from advertising, false information can also arise from misinformed social media posts by regular people that are seized on and spread through a hyperpartisan blogosphere." 

Communications expert Barbara Alvarez warns that "Without the knowledge of appropriately identifying fake news, these websites can do an effective job of tricking the untrained eye into believing it’s a credible source. Indeed, its intention is deception."

 

2. Types Of Fake News

There are a wide range of sources that can be considered fake news.  Melissa Zimdars, a professor of communication at Merrimack College assigns fake news sites to four different categories listed below:

  • Satire Sources - These sites generally employ humor, exaggeration or parody to comment on current events.  Examples include The Onion, Sports Pickle and News Biscuit.
  • Clickbait Sources - Sensational headlines or images that are designed to attract visitors to visit a page or link with the intent of generating advertising funds.  The information is often credible, but can also be misleading, biased or require clicking several slide or images to reach the actual information. Examples: Liberal America, RedState, The Blaze.
  • Unreliable Sources - These sources cannot usually be accepted at face value and need further verification from other sources to determine if information is credible. The information presented is often based on rumor or hearsay.  Examples: Brietbart, Occupy Democrats, Washington Examiner.
  • Fake/False Sources - These sources use distorted or false headlines with the goal to infuriate, shock, or offend people on social media to encourage likes, shares, or advertising funds. Examples: BostonLeader, BuzzfeedUSA, CBS News.com.Co

3. History of Fake News

Fake news has always existed.  A Washington Post article recalls that founding father Benjamin Franklin created a fake newspaper article describing American forces discovering that Native Americans had scalped 700 boys, girls, soldiers and infants and prepared a bag of the scalps and a letter of support to King George.  Franklin was angry that many Native Americans fought for the British during the Revolutionary War and wanted to drum up public hatred of Native Americans.  The story was false.

Near the end of the 19th century, a term named Yellow Journalism was coined to describe the methods used by newspaper publishing giants Willam Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer that emphasized exaggeration and hearsay over actual facts.  Yellow Journalism is considered by many historians to have influenced public support for the Spanish- American War.

In 1938, Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War Of The Worlds, a "fake" Martian invasion was purported to have created mass hysteria among people listening to the broadcast.  This "panic" has since been proven a myth, sustained and promoted by sensational and false newspaper headlines of that time.

Today, information creation is no longer solely controlled by large newspapers and virtually anyone can create and disseminate information in many different formats.  As the example of Eric Tucker, a 35 year old small business owner with only 40 Twitter followers shows, anyone can impact the spread of false information in this day and age.

PBS Perpetuates Exaggerated War of The Worlds Panic

PBS aired a special on the War Of The World's Broadcast continuing to report the overstated and often false account of mass panic and hysteria from the show.  See Snopes take on the War of The Worlds myth.