Defining Fake News
It is helpful to use academia or the UNHCR as sources for disinformation definitions since they are seen as authoritative sources, and this is easier than defining it during a discussion.
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center provides definitions for often confusing terms. Fake news gets thrown around, but it is not as helpful as the following specific terms.
- Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created or disseminated with the express purpose of causing harm. Disinformation producers typically have political, financial, psychological, or social motivations.
- Misinformation is information that is false but not intended to cause harm. For example, individuals who don’t know a piece of information is false may spread it on social media in an attempt to be helpful.
- Malinformation is genuine information that is shared to cause harm. This includes private or revealing information that is spread to harm a person or reputation.
- Propaganda is true or false information spread to persuade an audience, but it often has a political connotation and is often connected to government-generated information. It is worth noting that the lines between advertising, publicity, and propaganda are often unclear.
UNHCR has a global reach and their categories for disinformation and misinformation reflect a broader view of misleading content found around the world in the media and online.
- Fabricated Content: Completely false content.
- Manipulated Content: Genuine information and information that have been distorted, e.g., a sensational headline or populist “clickbait.”
- Imposter Content: Impersonation of a genuine account, e.g. using the branding of an existing agency.
- Misleading Content: Misleading information, e.g. a comment presented as fact.
- False Content: Factually accurate content combined with false contextual information, e.g. when the headline of the article does not reflect the content.
- Satire and Parody: Humorous but false stories passed as true. There is no intention to harm, but readers may be fooled.
- False Connections: When headlines, visuals, or captions do not support the content.
- Sponsored Content: Advertising or PR disguised as editorial content.
- Propoganda: Content used to manage attitudes, values, and knowledge.
- Error: A mistake by established news agencies in their reporting.