Cathie LeBlanc

A recent PEN America report defines fake news as “demonstrably false information that is being presented as a factual news report with the intention to deceive the public, and the related erosion of public faith in traditional journalism.” The report details the rise in the amount of false information being spread online as well as the negative effect that rise has had on public trust in news media (Pen America).

The phrase “fake news” means different things to different people. President Trump, for example, uses the phrase for news he doesn’t like, often dismissing the news industry as a whole, calling it the “fake news media” (Holan). Others consider news satire sites like The Onion fake news. The British newspaper The Telegraph defined the following five types of fake news (Titcomb):

  1.  “Commercially driven sensational content” is created for the purpose of drawing Internet users to a particular site in order to get them to view advertising. The site containing the story earns advertising money based on the web traffic to that site.
  2. “Nation-state sponsored misinformation” is content that is created for the purpose of influencing public opinion. The misinformation might be mixed with true stories or stories that have been sensationalized.
  3. “Highly partisan news sites” are driven by their support of one particular political ideology. They often conflate facts with opinion and often claim that other, more mainstream news sites are fake news.
  4. Social media “bots” are part of every social media platform. They roam platforms like Twitter and Facebook, leaving doctored photos, advertising sponsored by foreign governments, and faked videos in their wake all over the social media landscape.
  5. Satire and parody sites make up news stories in an attempt to entertain their audiences.

In this book, we use the Pen America definition of fake news. So we do not consider much of what President Trump calls fake news to actually be fake news because much of that content is actually true. Likewise, we would not consider stories posted by The Onion to be fake news because their intention is to make people laugh, not to deceive them. That is, although satirical news stories are not true, they do not fall under our definition of fake because of their intent.

As the PEN America report says, the spread of fake news threatens the undermine the democratic ideals that the United States was founded upon. The founders of the US saw the news media as “the fourth estate” (“Fourth Estate”) for the purpose of watching over the three branches of government. In this important watchdog role, the news media is “an important check against infringements of civil liberties” (PEN America). As trust in the news media continues to erode because of the very real challenges posed by fake news, public oversight of government officials and agencies becomes more difficult. In this way, fake news is a direct threat to our liberty.

Works Cited

“Fourth Estate,” Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Estate. Accessed November 28, 2017.

Holan, Angie Drobnic, “The Media’s Definition of Fake News vs. Donald Trump’s,” Politifact, October 18, 2017, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/oct/18/deciding-whats-fake-medias-definition-fake-news-vs/, Accessed November 14, 2017.

PEN America, Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth, October 12, 2017, https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/PEN-America_Faking-News-Report_10.17.pdf, Accessed November 14, 2017.

Titcomb, James and James Carson, “Fake News: What exactly is it–and can it really swing an election?”, The Telegraph, November 14, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/fake-news-origins-grew-2016/. Accessed November 28, 2017.



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Fake News and What to do About It Copyright © by Cathie LeBlanc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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