Fake news is false or misleading information presented as news. The term is a neologism (a new or re-purposed expression that is entering the language, driven by culture or technology changes). Fake news, or fake news websites, have no basis in fact, but are presented as being factually accurate.
Overlapping terms are bullshit, hoax news, pseudo-news, alternative facts, false news and junk news.
The National Endowment for Democracy defined fake news as: “[M]isleading content found on the internet, especially on social media […] Much of this content is produced by for-profit websites and Facebook pages gaming the platform for advertising revenue.” And distinguished it from disinformation: “[F]ake news does not meet the definition of disinformation or propaganda. Its motives are usually financial, not political, and it is usually not tied to a larger agenda.”
Media scholar Nolan Higdon has defined fake news as “false or misleading content presented as news and communicated in formats spanning spoken, written, printed, electronic, and digital communication. Higdon has also argued that the definition of fake news has been applied too narrowly to select mediums and political ideologies.
While most definitions focus strictly on content accuracy and format, current research indicates that the rhetorical structure of the content might play a significant role in the perception of fake news.
There are five categories collectively referred to as fake news. Some of which are actually fake (disinformation), others down to human error or biases (misinformation). Either way they all have a very loose connection with the truth and basically sit on a continuum of intent to deceive.
Satire or Parody
Satire or Parody – sites such as the Onion or Daily Mash publish fake news stories as humorous attempts to satirize the media, but have the potential to fool when shared out of context.
Misleading news is fake news
Misleading news that’s sort of true but used in the wrong context – selectively chosen real facts that are reported to gain headlines, but tend to be a misinterpretation of scientific research.
Misleading news that’s not based on facts, but supports an on-going narrative – news where there is no established baseline for truth, often where ideologies or opinions clash and unconscious biases come into play. Conspiracy theories tend to fall here!
Sloppy reporting that fits an agenda – news that contains some grains of truth that are not fully verified, which are used to support a certain position or view.
Intentionally deceptive – news that has been fabricated deliberately to either make money through number of clicks, or to cause confusion or discontent or as sensationalist propaganda. These stories tend to be distributed through imposter news sites designed to look like ‘real’ news brands, or through fake news sites. They often employ videos and graphic images that have been manipulated in some way.