Before we dive into dissecting fake news, let’s first talk about news. The idea of news varies from person to person, because what you consider as news might not have any news value to others.
But, for the sake of our discussion, we can say that news is information about events you look at everyday in the newspapers or televisions, that happen near you, or around the world.
Just like everything else, news has its own evil; the kind of news that gives the appearance of news but only to serve a different purpose. When news is not real, distorted, doctored in a way that misleads people, creating confusion, it is called fake news.
What is fake news?
In a general sense, fake news is false news. The news stories that are fabricated, have no authentic or reliable sources, with an intention to deceive people to take advantage of something, while manipulating the mass opinion are known as fake news.
It can be hard to find out the origin of fake news. But, it does not take much of a time to get spread out everywhere, thanks to social media. Usually, fake news is created intentionally, mostly to gain interest in political, economical concerns.
Types of fake news
Fake news can be divided into several types, based on its traits. Fake news is another burning question in the era of infodemic, when information is so dangerous that it can even cost lives.
The problem of misinformation and disinformation is also associated with fake news. Misinformation is when the mistake is not intentional, when information is false due to technical error, or a lack of adequate background research or fact checking. But disinformation comes with harmful intentions, and it is one of the key ingredients of fake news.
Some other types of fake news are given below.
- Clickbait: Internet based contents that are created in a way to attract audiences and make them click on it. Sensational headlines, images are used in clickbait contents.
- Propaganda: Biased, false, misleading information that is spread intentionally to support specific ideology.
- Satire/Parody: These sorts of contents are not originally considered as fake news because they are created for entertainment purposes, but, sometimes these might work as fake news; like if somebody happens to believe a satire for real, that satire then functions as fake news.
- Sloppy journalism: This is basically bad journalism. When a reporter fails to take care of one important characteristic of news, accuracy, the audience will be fed with false information.
- Misleading headlines: The news may turn out to be alright, but, sometimes the headline does the damage.
- Biased/Slanted news: People usually love to watch or hear what they want to. So, when somebody sees something that totally agrees with their belief, they might even not want to think about its authenticity. Thus, fake news can easily take over them.
- Advertorial: An advertorial is an advertising that is published in the structure of a news. Hence, it can often be misunderstood as news, while the main purpose of such contents is to let the consumers know about the products.
The term fake news first got people’s attention in 2016 in recent time, during the US election 2016. Some of us possibly got acquainted with the phrase at that time but the history of fake news goes far far behind.
Fake news can be traced back to the early 15th century. In 1440, German printer Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press that helped flourish the newspaper business at a mass scale. With news, fake news was also inevitable.
At that time, journalism was apparently a new concept, and there were no standard ethics of how to collect news. It was only in the 17th century, when people started caring about fact-checking.
Donald Trump was not the first (former) american president to have a problem with fake news. The second president of the United States, John Adams once wrote that the press had propagated more new error than ever before.
There have been war propagandas in the history of every war. Even during the American Revolutionary War, leaders like Benjamin Franklin promoted propaganda for their political cause. Hitler’s regime had its own propaganda ministry to enforce Nazi ideology during the second world war. Not to forget that, the allied power also used the same method in their favor.
Trump, US election, and fake news
It was Hillary Clinton, who first mentioned the phrase in 2016, according to BBC. Later on, in January 2017, Donald Trump said ‘you’re fake news’ to a CNN reporter while meeting the press. He then constantly brought up the word on Twitter.
The term became a mainstream buzzword during the US election 2016. It devoured the social media, mostly because it earned people a huge sum of money by advertising revenue.
In mid-2016, some teenagers from a Macedonian town started sharing fake news about Donald Trump and the US election on social media. They had fake news websites dedicated to this. The only reason they did such a malicious job was money. They were getting a lot of cash from social media advertising systems, and since sensational news gets much attention and eventually cash, they could not resist doing this.
People saw the power of fake news that election year. Some researches even claimed that it was fake news that helped Trump win the election. Although, it is debatable, but fake news sure had a considerable effect on that election.
Covid-19 fake news surge
Since the day Covid-19 has been deemed to be a human crisis, fake news also has been a part of it. We have seen a bunch of rumours about the pandemic, and as time flew by, the style of the rumours has changed too.
At first, it was about how normal the disease was. Then, when everybody realized that Covid-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon, the second phase of fake news started flowing. This time about the cure of coronavirus, specially home-made cures, or witchcraft, etc. Finally, now we are going through the phase of disinformation regarding the vaccination programs.
Now that it’s about life and death, one must try their best not to fall prey to fake news. It’s a shame that we have so much information now, nonetheless that’s what makes us vulnerable.
Contribution of social media
Confirmation bias is one kind of cognitive bias that is related to people’s belief; how they don’t want to contradict with their existing ideologies. In case of information, the confirmation bias provokes people to look for, gather, process information that agrees with their prior belief, norms, ideas.
This is a reason why people don’t want to question about the information they acquire on social media. And this has something to do with social media algorithms. These algorithms collect user data, analyse them, and then show relatable contents to the users. So, users only see what they like to see, thanks to those algorithms, thus, they don’t bother inquiring about the authenticity of the news they read, and keep living in a bubble.
This is just one way how social media helps surviving fake news. These platforms are so vast that it is almost impossible to control the spreading of fake news. Big conglomerates like Facebook, and Twitter are already trying to censor fake news from their platforms, but it’s devouring the Internet like wildfire.