Degrees of fake news.

The more serious forms of fake news have the intention to mislead audiences and do not put out any form of disclaimer to tell if it’s for entertainment, informative, etc.


8/23/20233 min read

"Fake news" and "misinformation" are closely related concepts that are frequently used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. In this article, you will learn about the different types of fake news. The term ‘fake news’ is problematic for different reasons. First, people use it to disapprove of news reports published by some media organizations (Tandoc et al., 2018). It’s ironic because the media should be trusted for the truth, but fingers are now pointed at them. Second, it has a touch of subjectivity. This is because news can be seen as biased sometimes and some people believe the legitimacy of fake news as long as it fits their perspective. The audience decides what is ‘fake news’ to them and this depends on their perception of it. Third, It is quite different to decipher fake news, especially in this age of social media where information source is hard to pinpoint. This is because fake news looks real and many times includes facts. Fourth, fake news especially as used by politicians is problematic because it’s one of the tactics that political parties use to denigrate opponents and influence the thinking of citizens. Politicians also use fake news to undermine democracies and promote control of political causes or points of view. In America, this has led to a divide even in how media is consumed because party members and/or supporters seek out fake news that confirms their views, leading to a polarized society - political polarization.

As with mis/disinformation, fake news is a global concern. This is because individuals, organizations and society at large are susceptible to it. Fake news stories spread rapidly; many people believe them even before the truth is confirmed and take needed actions. Millions of people engage with them and have been deceived unknowingly.

Allcott and Gentzkow (2017) define fake news as “news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers” (p. 213). While the term describes false stories, the definition can vary based on its application to different content types - satire, parody, fabrication, manipulation, propaganda, and advertising (operationalized fake news).

Satire ridicules, but with the purpose of criticizing vices, especially in the political context and other topical issues in society. It uses humor to disseminate news updates to audiences. Satire blends entertainment and information, and the hosts of these programs are perceived as entertainers rather than journalists or newscasters. Political satires are only fake in their format, but the actual content is real-life events.

News parody is similar to but also different from satire. The presentation format is typical of mainstream news media/ journalism. With news parody, “the content is fabricated” (Tandoc et al., 2018, p. 142).

With news fabrication, false information is presented as factual and published in the news article style in order for audiences to believe it. The goal is to misinform and these news stories lack objectivity and balanced reporting.

Photo manipulation is visual fake news. It happens when actual images or videos are manipulated to create a false narrative. The adoption of digital photos especially on social media has aided this misleading narrative through photos. Softwares have also made it easy to get this done in seconds (for example, by removing watermarks), making it difficult to verify information and image authenticity.

Advertising and Public relations as forms of fake news have a goal - financial gains. They are mostly aimed at promoting a product or positioning a company.

Propaganda as a form of fake news is intentionally misleading and promotes a political entity, perspective or government. According to Tandoc et al. (2018), “propaganda refers to news stories which are created by a political entity to influence public perceptions” (p. 146).

The harmless forms of fake news are satire, and parody while the more serious forms are fabricated news, native advertising, propaganda and manipulation (visual fake news). The difference is between the severity of the harmless is the level of facticity and intention (Bucy, & Newhagen, 2019). The more serious forms of fake news have the intention to mislead audiences and do not put out any form of disclaimer to tell if it’s for entertainment, informative, etc.

A term that might be used in place of fake news would be ‘tainted news” because the new story has been adulterated and filtered.

The elements of fake news that help convince audiences that the information contained in false reports and worth paying attention to (also called warning signs) include: Message features, volume/veracity and velocity and motivation (more details in the next article).

(This is an aspect of a paper I wrote for a course assignment).

Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of economic perspectives, 31(2), 211-36.

Bucy, E. P., & Newhagen, J. E. (2019). Fake news finds an audience. Journalism and truth in an age of social media, 201-222.

Tandoc Jr, E. C., Lim, Z. W., & Ling, R. (2018). Defining “fake news” A typology of scholarly definitions. Digital journalism, 6(2), 137-153.