What the fuck is “Fake News?”

“Fake News.” I’ve been hearing this term thrown around alot lately. If you would have asked what I thought it meant a few months ago, I would have said satire websites, like The Onion or comedy television like The Daily Show.

Then the election happened and Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. This took many by surprise and in the weeks post-election I started hearing more and more about “Fake News” being a contributing factor to this unprecedented upset. Wait, what?!?

“Surely you’re not telling me that people couldn’t tell the difference between real news and satire and that’s why Hillary lost?!?”

That made no sense to me whatsoever. There must be something I was missing. So I started on a hunt to understand this fake news phenomenon a bit more, what it meant, and how it potentially affected the election. So what better place to start than Wikipedia:

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media. These sites are distinguished from news satire, as they mislead and profit from readers’ gullibility

Aha! So “Fake News” is much bigger than I thought and goes way beyond satire. It is basically news articles and headlines designed to be shared through social media and to get you — yes you the reader to click on and read these articles.

“Fake News” main purpose is to drive ad impressions and clickthroughs and to make advertising dollars. Have you ever seen the headline of an interesting article, clicked through and then discovered that the actual article was shit, had no real content, or had nothing to do at all with the headline? That’s an example of “Fake News.”

What makes it worse is that many of us never bother to RTFA (read the fucking article). So we end up passing around the headlines and sharing it on Social Media as if it were the real article. This effect multiplies over and over until you actually start to believe something is true just because you see headlines for it everywhere.

What makes matters worse is that many mainstream news outlets will help propagate “Fake News” from other sites by reporting on a story with unverified reports linking back to source material, which itself is misleading or unverified.

There is also an attribute to “Fake News” where reporters are just not properly sourcing their stories. They take unverified reports and report them as fact. In the past they would have gotten multiple independent accounts from various witnesses but due to today’s rush to print and publish that due diligence is in a large part gone.

Think you haven’t been fooled by it before? Some examples:

  • Newsweek report that interrogators had desecrated a Koran at Guantanamo
  • The Obama birther controversy
  • CBS and Dan Rather’s documents that attempted to smear former President George W. Bush’s National Guard service
  • Obama issuing an executive order to ban the pledge of allegiance
  • Trump claiming 3 million illegal voters in this election
  • Duke Lacrosse Team rape allegations
  • PizzaGate: Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop
  • BLM: Michael Brown having his hands up when he was shot by police officers

I don’t even know what to think about this. It is definitely a byproduct of the Internet. Information travels so fast and so quickly and because the process is mostly free and democratic almost everyone has an equal voice.

With the rush to make money and break stories and no way to validate fact from fiction without doing alot of homework yourself … well … I don’t even … we’re all just S.O.L.