Fact, fiction and fake news—exploring the impact of fake news

Fact, fiction and fake news—exploring the impact of fake news

What is ‘fake news’ and what kind of an impact does it have on a democratic society? Adelaide Lopez, associate at Wiggin LLP, outlines what constitutes fake news, as well as explaining the dangers it poses and the tools that can be utilised to combat it.

What constitutes ‘fake news’? What if the person publishing or writing a so called ‘fake news’ story genuinely believes it to be true?

There are two categories of ‘fake news’:

  • false or inaccurate stories usually circulated to further a political or social agenda, or
  • accurate news reporting mischaracterised information because someone disagrees with or dislikes the content

President Trump and many in his administration have been roundly accused of the second kind of ‘fake news’—declaring that long established and credible news outlets such as the New York Times are peddling ‘fake news’ about his administration’s ties with Russia, for example, or that the White House’s calculation of the number of attendees at the inauguration was an ‘alternative fact’ to that reported by the national park service and D.C. metro.

The creation of straight-up ‘fake news’ (ie purported ‘news’ containing completely fabricated facts) is now its own cottage industry. There are professionals who write these sensationalist and deeply inaccurate articles and sell them to the highest bidder or post the stories personally to drive traffic to their website or profile. The story furthers an agenda, whether it’s to discredit an opponent, or to scare the audience into supporting a policy position. The person writing the ‘fake news’ knows that it’s fake or, at the very least, should have known, given the shallow depths of their fact checking. A publisher, or more likely the person sharing the story with their friends online, may be unaware that the news is fake (because these days truth is stranger than fiction), but that doesn’t make the story any less untrue or any less dangerous.

There is also the brand of ‘fake news’ that contains accurate information buried beneath misleading headlines and

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