The deliberate creation and sharing of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain. ‘Misinformation’ refers to the inadvertent sharing of false information.
Fake news, also known as junk news or pseudo-news, is a type of journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media. The false information is often caused by reporters paying sources for stories, an unethical practice called checkbook journalism. Digital news has brought back and increased the usage of fake news, or ‘yellow journalism’. The news is then often reverberated as misinformation in social media but occasionally finds its way to the mainstream media as well.
Fake news is written and published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership. Similarly, clickbait stories and headlines earn advertising revenue from this activity.
The relevance of fake news has increased in post-truth politics. For media outlets, the ability to attract viewers to their websites is necessary to generate online advertising revenue. Publishing a story with false content that attracts users benefits advertisers and improves ratings. Easy access to online advertisement revenue, increased political polarization, and the popularity of social media, primarily the Facebook News Feed, have all been implicated in the spread of fake news, which competes with legitimate news stories. Hostile government actors have also been implicated in generating and propagating fake news, particularly during elections.
Confirmation bias and social media algorithms like those used on Facebook and Twitter further advance the spread of fake news. Modern impact is felt for example in vaccine hesitancy.
Fake news undermines serious media coverage and makes it more difficult for journalists to cover significant news stories. An analysis by BuzzFeed found that the top 20 fake news stories about the 2016 U.S. presidential election received more engagement on Facebook than the top 20 election stories from 19 major media outlets. Anonymously-hosted fake news websites lacking known publishers have also been criticized, because they make it difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel.
The term is also at times used to cast doubt upon legitimate news from an opposing political standpoint, a tactic known as the lying press. During and after his presidential campaign and election, Donald Trump popularized the term “fake news” in this sense when he used it to describe the negative press coverage of himself. In part as a result of Trump’s use of the term, the term has come under increasing criticism, and in October 2018 the British government decided that it will no longer use the term because it is “a poorly-defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes”.
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