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People on all sides of the political spectrum see fake news as a terrible problem for the health of democracy. However, the way people use, feel and think of that term has changed a lot in recent years, and it means different things to different people at different times.
Recently, the AllSides Red Blue Dictionary, a tool providing balanced explanations of controversial terms and phrases, gathered a team of people with beliefs from across the political spectrum to come up with a definition that captures what people really mean when they refer to “fake news”.
The process took days, and required lots of back-and-forth to ensure that views from all sides of the political bias spectrum were accurately captured. The final, full fake news definition appears on the AllSides Red Blue Dictionary, which was created by a cross-partisan group of dialogue experts. That means every single dictionary definition was a multi-partisan effort, incorporating opinions and ideas from people all across the political bias spectrum.
So, what is fake news? Fake news most commonly refers to journalism or information that either deliberately or unintentionally misleads people and distorts reality by spreading false information, hoaxes, propaganda or misrepresentation of facts. It can be used as a propaganda or marketing tactic, as a way to fairly or unfairly discredit ideological opponents, or as a way to increase revenue via online engagement metrics such as clicks, views, comments, likes and shares.
People on both the Left and the Right say that the term fake news can be used to discredit anyone or anything they disagree with or don’t like. For example, many on the Left say President Trump calls anything he disagrees with fake news, while many on the Right argue this is the Left media’s way of deflecting legitimate concerns about their bias and lack of credibility.
- Find out more about the OECD's work on Trust in Government
Four types of occurrences are regularly labelled fake news:
- False information: Completely untrue, false, or made up information presented as fact.
- Misapplied or misrepresented facts: True information or data that is misrepresented, misused or misapplied to paint a false picture of reality.
- Omission of information: Information or data that is factually true but is misrepresented, or other relevant information or data that would counter its narrative is ignored.
- Misleading choices of what should be news: Important stories are ignored or buried (hard to find), or unimportant stories are treated as important news.
Aside from these more technical distinctions, there is broader disagreement as to the scope of what ought to be labelled as fake news. For instance, some left-leaning mainstream media outlets that have been criticised by President Trump, such as CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times, often use the more narrow, literal definition of fake news — purely fictional, made-up information.
However, media and people from the Right and the Far Left often use a broader definition of fake news — to describe media coverage that is overly biased, deceptive or manipulative. From this vantage point, established media powers are employing bias, failing to do good-faith research and lacking credibility. They say the mainstream description of fake news — as purely made-up information — is too narrow a definition, and believe that we need to shine a light on the more subtle and pernicious type of fake news: that which is biased, manipulative or deceptive. Many on both the Right and Left believe this type of fake news is a more sophisticated, dangerous and Orwellian way to fool and manipulate people. They are grateful that this deceit is getting more attention.
And yet, it’s not that simple. Still more people believe that when people on the Right use the term fake news, it’s really an attack on credible news in general.
Get the full definition of fake news at the AllSides Red Blue Dictionary and consider the following questions:
- What do you think of when you hear the term “fake news”?
- How can we distinguish fake news from real news?
- How might concerns about fake news affect how reporters provide information?
- Is it a problem that people have different meanings for the term fake news?
- Are all the cries of fake news preventing us from agreeing on a shared reality?
- Does the heightened awareness of fake news encourage critical thinking and help us to identify higher quality information?
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