What is the definition of fake news?

You’ve probably heard the expression daily the last couple of years. Fake news. It seems like it’s on everyone’s lips, from leading politicians to people in your social media flow. In general, it’s a term used to label stories that are false, or not 100 percent true. Sometimes it’s used for factually accurate stories to undermine the arguments of an opponent. Whatever the reason, fake news is not a novelty. Fabricated news, propaganda and lies have been with us for thousands of years. What is new is how easy it is to share information on a massive scale.

Fake news has no basis in facts
Fake news is a term describing content with no basis in facts but presented in a form that gives that impression. There are many reasons to use fake news, but frequently the intent is to mislead people for financial or political gain. During political elections today, for example, it’s becoming the norm that different interest groups try to affect voters with fake news, with the intention to steer them into a certain political or ideological direction.

Fake news is a type of journalism-like content spread via traditional news media and/or online social media, where the source often is anonymous but can be presented and mixed with valid facts. To gain greater reach, fake news is usually created with a sensational approach, i.e. clickbait, as this is an effective method to get people’s attention and make them spread the content. The characteristics of a clickbait can, together with the non-factual content, be used to separate fake news from legitimate news.

Learn more about fake news

Different types of fake news
There are many initiatives working to counteract fake news. One was founded in 2015 by well-known Internet companies Google, Facebook, Twitter and several philanthropies, First Draft News is a project “to fight mis- and disinformation online”. It has identified seven types of fake news:

  1. satire or parody (no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool)
  2. false connection (when headlines, visuals or captions don't support the content)
  3. misleading content (misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual)
  4. false context (when genuine content is shared with false contextual information)
  5. impostor content (when genuine sources are impersonated with false sources)
  6. manipulated content (when genuine information or imagery is manipulated)
  7. fabricated content (new content is false, designed to deceive and do harm)

As you can see, not all types of fake news have the intention to cause harm but can still be misunderstood or misused. To avoid being fooled, and to avoid spreading fake news, it’s important to be source critical. Fact-checking a statement on Factlab is an excellent way to see if it’s true or not. In another blog post we will further describe how you best identify fake news and minimize its impact.

Download our checklist “12 ways to identify fake news”

Hands on advice
With our handy checklist you get hands on advice in how to spot fake news. You will learn:

  • What are common warning signs?
  • How can format and quality help you identify fake news?
  • How do you develop a source critical approach?
  • How and where can you fact check an article?