The advancement of the internet has enabled people to obtain and distribute news messages at a rapid pace. Most of us now use social media websites and other online platforms to obtain news.
Historically, news reports were generated and distributed via conventional news media, such as newspapers, magazines, televisions and radio. However, in the modern era, in addition to traditional media, there are plenty of other channels delivering news, such as news websites and social media. Since it is easy to disseminate news on the internet, the reports spread online are not necessarily from credible sources.
The rapid distribution of news on the internet has changed the practice of the news industry. Some of the news reports may contain fake or false facts deliberately or inadvertently. For the purpose of attracting public attention, some media groups may overstate the news, while some may even fabricate or twist the content.
Due to the fact that it is easy to register multiple accounts using fake information on social media, some of these social media platforms are full of fake accounts, which mislead through spreading fake news. Moreover, spammers and fake news spreaders also use social media to spread such news, and as an outcome, the internet is filled with fake or false information.
Many in the news industry no longer verify the content of the news reports for better accuracy. Rather, they rally to break the news first in order to grab the attention of the audience. This is the reason that reporters now rarely have sufficient time to check and verify the information they have collected. For this very reason, some of the news reports may contain incorrect facts. These incorrect articles are spread over the internet, making it full of fake or false content.
Fake news, an issue that has accelerated in recent years, existed for long, but relatively few people are aware of the presence of fake news. In 2016 US Presidential elections, the issue of fake news was huge. In fact, it was after 2016 that the term fake news became mainstream as hundreds of websites published falsified or heavily biased stories with the term being popularized by former US President Donald Trump.
Fake news is not simply false information. News reports that contain incorrect news may not always be considered as fake news because people believe that the reporters do not deliver the incorrect news intentionally. However, people consider news reports with some facts to be fake because reporters exaggerate the content of the news.
Several terms are used interchangeably, for example, fake news, news satire, pseudo-news, hoax news, propaganda news, advertorial, false information, fake information, misinformation, disinformation, and alternative fact.
The terms can be divided into two categories: terms with similar meaning to fake news and terms with similar meaning to false information. Essentially, fake news discusses the news that is put out by the media. False information is information that is distributed over the internet. False information can be spread alone via the internet or it can be included in fake news. Thus, false information and its related terms have a larger range of scope compared with fake news.
Fake news does not always report non-existent news stories. It seldom happens that the whole news story is fabricated, although pure fabrication is still a possible source of false information. In general, fake news refers to news that contains wrong or false information but do not report the incorrectness of information. However, not all papers adopt this definition of fake news.
Some define fake news as news that is intentionally written to mislead the readers but can be verified to be false. This definition raises the issue as to who has the authority and the ability to decide if the news is purposely written to mislead the audience.
If a news does not purposely include incorrect facts, should it be deemed fake news or not? The central concept is that fake news is news with incorrect facts, whereas the motive is an accompanying issue when discussing fake news. However, not all incorrect facts are spread intentionally; some are spread unintentionally, though.
In this case, fake news refers to inaccurate facts distributed on the internet in the sense that the inaccurate facts are spread online rather than in the format of news reports. These inaccurate or incorrect messages are named as disinformation, misinformation and rumors that are related to fake news.
News satire, yellow journalism, junk news, pseudo-news, hoax news, propaganda news and advertorial are terms with similar meanings to fake news. Some people may consider these terms as synonyms for fake news. For example, some people may consider news satire as fake news since news satire is not real news. Some may believe yellow journalism is a type of fake news because it is the use of sensational headlines, rather than factual news, to capture a reader’s attention. Some may consider fake news as junk news since fake news is also meaningless like trash but disseminated in bulk.
Fake news can also be considered pseudo-news by some, if it reports something that doesn’t exist. However, there are still some stark differences among all of these terms.
Fake news refers to news that contains incorrect or false information but do not report the incorrectness of information.
It is not easy to distinguish fake news from false news. The terms fake news and false news can often be used interchangeably. However, fake news is news that is deliberately falsified, while false news is with inaccurate information, whether it is created intentionally or mistakenly.
News satire is a type of humorous content or a satirical article that the audience knows is not always correct. Some publications constantly publish news satire, such as the Onion. Although news satire does not report real facts, it is different from fake news. The purpose of satire is to have fun and to cheer the audience. However, in some cases, people might mistakenly treat satire as factual.
Pseudo-news reports a non-existent story. The whole story does not exist. Fake news is also not identical to pseudo-news in the sense that some fake news actually exists but with some misleading or false details.
Hoax refers to news that contains malicious deceptions. The incorrect information is deliberately, not mistakenly included in hoax. However, in some rare cases, hoax news is considered a joke, for instance the April Fools’ Day.
Propaganda news is a paid news report containing propaganda messages that disguise as news. However, propaganda news usually reports a real but exaggerated fact. Media organizations usually receive sponsorships to deliver such propaganda.
Advertorial, a term that is a combination of advertising and editorial, is referred to as a news that contains commercial messages. It is an advertisement that looks like a news story and usually contains a sponsor message for the purpose of marketing.
Fake news has become a major issue around the world with far-reaching consequences. Pakistan is no different and unfortunately, both our mainstream media and digital space are ripe with fake news. There are multiple factors that fake news is rampant in Pakistan.
The mainstream media, regulated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), has little oversight and almost nothing in the way of internal protocols. There are not just two or three but thousands of examples of television channels running fake and fabricated news without any consequences. PEMRA needs to be more proactive and also has to help the media industry through training programs and workshops. Media houses also need to have proper training programs for journalists so that fact-checking becomes part and parcel of news reporting.
The newspaper industry in Pakistan fares slightly better in this regard, at least when it comes to mainstream newspapers. However, there is room for some improvement here too.
The digital space is where fake news is the most difficult to stop. Social media and communication platforms like Whatsapp groups, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have all become the hub of fake news and misinformation. The space is also impossible to regulate so the only fix, in this case, is better awareness among the masses. The culture of forwarding any information without verification has to be discouraged. For this, the government has to play its part and come up with a strategy to create awareness among the masses. For now little is being done in this regard and the problem is bubbling up under the surface. If relevant stakeholders aren’t proactive, the problem may become much more serious in the coming years.
How to avoid fake news?
You can protect yourself from falling for fake news by learning to recognize fake news by being curious and actively investigating what you read and listen to, by using news sources that are accountable for their content and that follow journalistic ethics and standards, by being careful before sharing news with others on social media, by pausing and reflecting on news and information that arouses strong emotions, and last but not the least you have to learn to recognize your own biases and atone for them.