The Problem of Fake News – and it’s getting bigger

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The term ‘fake news’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2019, but it’s been around a lot longer than that.  Fake news is broadly false or misleading information that is presented as real news.  It’s prevalence has increased with the advent of the internet and social media.  As less people get their news though the television and more access it online, the perpetrators of fake news have seen opportunities explode.  So what effect does fake news have?

How do we recognise fake news?

According to an Ofcom survey more than half of people now get their news from social media.  This presents a problem as in effect anyone can become an editor and publish news on social media.  Fake news often originates from fake news websites which are trying to gain users and credibility.  It often spreads more rapidly than genuine news due to its sensationalist headlines.  The content is often designed to provoke extreme emotions in readers like anger or fear.

Social media platforms generally prioritise content in terms of engagement, so the more often it is liked and shared, the more often it will appear.  This aids the spread of fake news if people are reacting to it and sharing it.  And as they are platforms rather than publishers, social media companies don’t have the same legal responsibility to ensure content is accurate.

There are several types of fake news:

  • Clickbait – the more outrageous and weird a story is, the more people are likely to click on it and share it. Some fake news is put out to get clicks through to a website so eye-catching and misleading headlines are used.
  • Satire – these are fictional stories that are made up to entertain and amuse readers, they are not meant to be believed.
  • Propaganda – these are false stories put out to promote a political or other agenda.
  • Poor journalism – if journalists do not fact-check their articles properly, mistakes can occur leading to fake news.
  • Imposter news – this is when real news sources are impersonated by fakes to fool the public.

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