Would you call this “fake news”?

What is the definition of “fake news”?

It’s hard to decide what constitutes “fake news.” The term is a catch-all expression that encompasses everything — therefore, confusing. For instance, all of the following could be called “fake” in our daily conversation.

  1. fabricated content including manipulated images (surprise, surprise, people make stuff up for a variety of reasons)
  2. unflattering media to your belief/opinions (reports can be fact-based, but naturally, we all don’t like to be criticized)
  3. errors in news reports (yup, journalists make mistakes — more often than you might think)
  4. ads disguised as news reports (those ‘native ads’ are everywhere these days)
  5. commentaries on current affairs including satire (nope, opinions are not facts but many people don’t know the difference)
  6. sensational, emotional, and/or overly dramatic news headlines (they can be very misleading as they lack important details and nuances)

You may think it is easy to distinguish one type of misinformation from another because categorizations like the above are rather clear-cut, but in reality, news reports often consist of a combination of many different information types.

A legit news report, for example, can be quoting a politician who has lied to the journalist. A fabricated story about a news event or a conspiracy theory could also contain full of verifiable facts in it. Sponsored content does not mean it is all misleading or exaggeration.

So, today, let’s play a little game with AJ:

There is nothing new about fraudulent news stories, bogus claims, made-up “facts,” malicious disinformation, political propaganda, attacks on journalists, and other efforts to manipulate the information space to influence people’s beliefs and opinions. Human history is full of such efforts all over the world.

Grouping them all under the name of “fake news” muddles the issues and confuses us. In non-English speaking countries, it could be even more problematic because people interpret the English expression in their own languages in their own cultural and political context, which further obfuscates the nuances.

What we should do, instead, is try to identify the specific types and highlight the associated problems when we come across questionable information.

Key Ideas
  • Calling some news “fake” won’t help our conversation because people mean different things with that expression. “You’re fake news” simply means “I don’t like you” nowadays 🙂
  • Spotting questionable information in news reports, on the other hand, is an important skill we all should learn. After all, who wants to look like a chump who gets tricked all the time?
  • Knowing different “types” of misleading content let us quickly identify the issues and prevent our mom and dad from spreading it (yeah, it’s often the old folks who do that).
For Teachers

Learning Outcome
Students will be able to 1) spot problematic news stories by recognizing different types of misinformation, and 2) envisage associated issues surrounding the misinformation ecosystem from motivations to social impacts.

Suggested Activity
Information and misinformation are becoming more and more difficult to tell apart as many types of misinformation are masquerading as journalism. In this lesson, we would like our students to get into the complexities of the different types of misinformation.

  1. After discussing the above video and key ideas, have your students find and collect questionable information on the internet they encounter every day.
  2. Have them go through the following article and a table:
  1. With the examples they have collected, ask them to create their own table such as the one below.
Kind Sensational Gossip Comedy
Motivation Get people’s attention, clicks, … To entertain/amuse people, …
Methods Emotional language, exaggeration, … Mockery, jokes, …
Practitioners Tabloid papers, entertainment news sites, such as … Comedians, cartoonists, such as …
Impact Unverified facts can be shared widely, some audiences react emotionally, … Facts are mixed with made-up information, some audiences develop opinions before knowing all facts, …
  1. Have them compare their tables and discuss what they have learned from the activity.