That ‘Fake News’ Term
I have found myself using the term Fake News more than any other word or phrase to describe what I, and many others, are fighting against in this war against untruth, despite the fact that I agree with everyone who says we need to do away with the term.
Almost ironically, it is because of the discussion around the Fake News term and how bad it is, that I have ended up using it so much. It ends up being a pretty good colloquial shorthand for ‘all that stuff which is problematic in the online information space’. But still not great.
I used to use the word Misinformation. But then I learned that misinformation doesn’t also include disinformation, which is all about intentionally misleading people for some ulterior purpose. Misinformation can come from genuine mistakes or from people simply holding erroneous beliefs. Disinformation on the other hand comes from people who want to fool and manipulate you.
In some ways I am not at all concerned with the cause of the incorrect information. Whether it is intentional or not is irrelevant to the outcome — that some readers come to believe things which are not true — and as such, I am concerned with misinformation and disinformation equally. So, is there a word which simply encapsulates both? Untruths? Untrue claims? Sounds a bit bland. It also kind of includes fictional content and satirical content, which isn’t quite the same thing. It doesn’t cause the same concern as people making a specific claim that “this is true” while presenting something untrue. So it would be good to separate out all of those things which are untrue but not pretending to be true, or likely to be mistaken as claims of truth.
False Claims? Misleading content?
Misleading content is a contender. It also captures another one of the difficult areas: content which is factually accurate, but entirely misleading in its conclusion or badly framed in order to deceive. For example: And now it’s global COOLING! Return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 29% in a year
The other half of the problem is that Fake News is too entrenched in the public mind now. Love it or hate it, they recognise it and what it relates to. If I start putting up articles and talks about “Misleading Content” will people really understand what I am talking about?
Who searches for “Misleading Content”? SEO would be right out the window if you try to change terms now. Who has hashtag alerts for “False Claims”? Even ‘Misinformation’ is almost entirely dead as a search term and twitter hashtag. Fake News gets all of the action now and trying to use a different word just makes it harder to get your work found and/or noticed.
And so, I find myself trapped by a word we all hate, but which seems to do the job adequately enough at capturing the idea of “untrue stuff which is problematic in the information space”. I suspect I will keep using Fake News as this colloquial catch-all term until a better option comes along.
PS: Tagging this article shows 5.2k articles have been tagged with Fake News, 220 articles tagged with Misinformation, 144 with Disinformation, and of course, Misleading Content and False Claims don’t exist at all. There is just no competition.