Fake news

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For other uses, see Fake news (disambiguation).

Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation in social media or traditional news media with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.[1] It often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories in order to increase readership and online sharing.[1] Profit is made in a similar fashion to clickbait stories through ad-revenue that is generated regardless of the veracity of the published stories.[1] Easy access to ad-revenue, increased political polarization and the ubiquity of social media, primarily the Facebook newsfeed, have been implicated in the spread of fake news.[2][1] Anonymously hosted websites lacking known publishers have also been implicated, because they make it difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for slander.[3][4][5][6]


Fake news has been defined as news which is "completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximise traffic and profit".[7] It can also be used for political purposes to discredit a candidate for office or a candidate for an appointed position. News satire, on the other hand, uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive.[7]


Fake news can be traced back to the 8th century, but the term itself arose in the United States in the late 19th century.[8] One of the earliest instances of fake news was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. The New York Sun published articles about a real-life astronomer and a made-up colleague who, according to the hoax, had observed bizarre life on the moon. The fictionalized articles successfully attracted new subscribers, and the penny paper suffered very little backlash after it admitted the series had been a hoax the next month.[9]

Fake news is similar to the concept of yellow journalism and political propaganda, frequently employing the same strategies used by early 20th century penny presses.[10][11][12]

Fake news has been used in email phishing attacks for many years, with sensationalist fabrications incentivizing users to click links and have their computers infected with malware.[13]

The origin of contemporary fake news is disputed, with accounts claiming it is part of a coordinated Russian propaganda effort in the 2010s aimed at the West, or a purely commercial effort.[14] Hillary Clinton was a prime target of fake news during her 2016 presidential candidacy, and her supporters claimed that her loss was partly to be blamed on fake news.[15] Following Donald Trump's election it has been suggested that Angela Merkel has become the new primary target of fake news in the run-up to the 2017 German federal election.[16] The Facebook newsfeed has been heavily implicated in the spread of fake news,[17][18] and in the aftermath of the American election and the run-up to the German election — Facebook has partnered with independent fact-checkers to label inaccurate news, warning readers before sharing it.[19][20][21] The impact of fake news is global and part of a worldwide phenomenon.[22]



On September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, CBS aired a 60 Minutes II segment that presented fake documents critical of U.S. President George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard in 1972–73. It was quickly found by the Internet that the documents were fake and that CBS had failed to perform minimal fact-checking.[23] This event would become known as Rathergate for the presented of the segment, but also as Fake but accurate.


In March 2006, Crystal Gail Mangum, a stripper and escort, accused several members of the Duke University Lacrosse team of rape in what would eventually become the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax and the media quickly supported the narrative of rich white students raping an African-American woman.[24] Dan Okrent described the media coverage of the case as "as journalists excited to find all their pet social-justice issues in one story."[25]


On November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone published a subsequently retracted and debunked article titled A Rape on Campus which claimed that a brutal and extended gang rape of a freshman called 'Jackie' had occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the UVA campus. The story was subsequently demonstrated to be wholly made up by Jackie Coakley, who created the instigator of the gang rape, Haven Monahan, out of thin air in an effort at Catfishing another freshman at UVA.[26]


In late 2016 fake news gained notoriety following the uptick in news-content in the Facebook newsfeed,[27][2] and its prevalence on the micro-blogging site Twitter.[27] With a large portion of Americans using Facebook or Twitter to receive news[28] - in combination with increased political polarization, filter bubbles, and the tendency of readers to mainly read headlines - fake news was implicated in influencing the 2016 American presidential election.[29][30] Fake news saw higher sharing on Facebook than legitimate news stories,[31][32][33] which analysts explained was because fake news often panders to expectations or is otherwise more exciting than legitimate news.[32][12] Fake news is often spread through the use of fake news websites, specializing in made up attention-grabbing news, which often impersonate widely known news sources in order to gain credibility.[34][35][36]

Fake news items have occasionally spread from such sites to well-established news-sites resulting in alleged scandals like "Pizzagate", which have been mostly investigated through online media.[37]


Image used to associate President Trump with golden showers

On January 10, 2017, Buzzfeed published an article claiming that a former British intelligence officer was aware that Russians had a dossier of highly salacious reports about Donald Trump and were therefore in a position to black mail him.[38] The article acknowledges that the "allegations are unverified," and "contains errors" however they published it anyway. Subsequently, the reports went viral with many news sites across the world repeating them.[39] President Trump labelled the story as Fake News and Rupert Myers of the Telegraph wrote that "If you decry fake news but revel in sordid claims about Donald Trump, you're a hypocrite."[40] Neil Clarke of True Viral News likened it to the Zinoviev letter of 1924.[41]

The Federalist has reported on 16 fake news stories that have run since Donald Trump was elected president, and suggests that the media is responsible for "an epidemic of fake news."[42] It cites fake news cases including:

  • A claimed spike in transgender suicide rates since the election of Donald Trump
  • The Tri-State Election Hacking Conspiracy Theory
  • The 27-cent foreclosure (that Trump's pick for Treasury secretary was in charge of a company that foreclosed a 90-year-old woman's mortgage over "a 27 cent payment error.")
  • The photo-shopped hands affair

On February 2, 2017, just days after President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, Alternet published as story alleging that Gorsuch had founded a club called Fascism Forever during his high school years.[43] Alternet subsequently tried to remove the article, leading to a "permission message" when trying to access it. The New York Post, The Daily Mail, U.S. News and World Report, Vice News and Keith Olbermann all ran with the story before it was debunked.[44] It has been suggested that the Daily Mail was the original source, having published a lengthier article on the same topic that day.[45] However, regardless of the original publisher, the lack of fact checking and integrity by many Mainstream Media organizations was said to be disturbing, given the potential for serious damage to Gorsuch's confirmation to the US Supreme Court.


Historically, fake news has been blamed for helping to instigate the Spanish-American War in 1898.[46]

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were targeted by fake news during the 2016 presidential elections.[15] However, a study by researchers at Stanford University and New York University concluded that fake news had "little to no effect on the outcome of the election", noting that only 8-percent of voters read a fake news story and that recall of the stories was low.[47][48] The study concluded that "for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads".[49][50]

A Pew Research poll conducted in December 2016 found that 64% of U.S. adults believed completely made-up news had caused "a great deal of confusion" about the basic facts of current events, while 24% claimed it had caused "some confusion" and 11% said it had caused "not much or no confusion".[51] Additionally, 23% of those polled admitted they had personally shared fake news, either knowingly or not.


The role of Russian intelligence agencies in creating fake news as a propaganda tool to undermine the West is disputed.[14] Alternet reported that Donald Trump himself had been the source of some of the related misinformation.[52]

The Facebook newsfeed has been heavily implicated in the spread of fake news, and the resulting effects of fake news, but Facebook itself initially denied this characterization.[53][18] In the aftermath of the American election and the run-up to the German election Facebook has begun labeling and warning of inaccurate news.[54][55][56] Facebook has partnered with independent fact-checkers: Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, ABC News, AP, and Correctiv to vet news for accuracy, warning readers and potential sharers.[57][21] However, websites like Snopes.com have their own history of using fake organizations and Correctiv has recently been accused of being funded by Soros.[58]

In the wake of western events China's Ren Xianling of the Cyberspace Administration of China suggested a "reward and punish" system be implemented to avoid fake news in that country.[59]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hunt, Elle (December 17, 2016). "What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Woolf, Nicky (November 11, 2016). "How to solve Facebook's fake news problem: experts pitch their ideas". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  3. "Who’s to blame for fake news and what can be done about it?". Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  4. Callan, Paul. "Sue over fake news? Not so fast". CNN. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  5. Harvey, Kerric; author; Media, the Encyclopedia of Social; Politics. "Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?". NPR.org. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  6. Woolf, Nicky (November 17, 2016). "As fake news takes over Facebook feeds, many are taking satire as fact". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hunt, Elle (December 17, 2016). "What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  8. http://archives.cjr.org/feature/before_jon_stewart.php
  9. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-moon-hoax
  10. "To Fix Fake News, Look To Yellow Journalism | JSTOR Daily". JSTOR Daily. November 29, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  11. "Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say". Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Agrawal, Nina. "Where fake news came from — and why some readers believe it". latimes.com. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  13. Tomlinson, Kerry (27 January 2017). "Fake news can poison your computer as well as your mind". Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Seddon, Max (January 13, 2017). "From Russia with bluff: social media strategy sows confusion". Financial Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Clinton decries fake news 'epidemic'". POLITICO. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  16. "Angela Merkel replaces Hillary Clinton as prime target of fake news, analysis finds". Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  17. Isaac, Mike (December 12, 2016). "Facebook, in Cross Hairs After Election, Is Said to Question Its Influence". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Matthew Garrahan and Tim Bradshaw, Richard Waters, (November 21, 2016). "Harsh truths about fake news for Facebook, Google and Twitter". Financial Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  19. Stelter, Brian (January 15, 2017). "Facebook to begin warning users of fake news before German election". CNNMoney. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  20. "Clamping down on viral fake news, Facebook partners with sites like Snopes and adds new user reporting". Nieman Lab. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Kuchler, Hannah (January 15, 2017). "Facebook rolls out fake-news filtering service to Germany". Financial Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  22. Connolly, Kate; Chrisafis, Angelique; McPherson, Poppy; Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Haas, Benjamin; Phillips, Dominic; Hunt, Elle; Safi, Michael (December 2, 2016). "Fake news: an insidious trend that's fast becoming a global problem". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  23. JARRETT MURPHY (January 10, 2005). "CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story". CBS News. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  24. {cite web | url = http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/ten-years-after-duke-lacrosse-rape-hoax-media-has-learned-nothing/article/2585793 | title = Ten years after Duke Lacrosse rape hoax, media has learned nothing | author = Ashe Schow | publisher = Washington Examiner | date = March 14, 2016 | accessdate = March 10, 2017}}
  25. Mary Katharine Ham (March 16, 2016). "Fantastic Lies: 10 Appalling Moments From The Duke Lacrosse Case". The Federalist. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  26. David Uberti (December 22, 2014). "The worst journalism of 2014". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "The Long and Brutal History of Fake News". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  28. Gottfried, Jeffrey; Shearer, Elisa (May 26, 2016). "News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016". Pew Research Center's Journalism Project. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  29. "Forget Facebook and Google, burst your own filter bubble". Digital Trends. December 6, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  30. Solon, Olivia (November 10, 2016). "Facebook’s failure: did fake news and polarized politics get Trump elected?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  31. "This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook". BuzzFeed. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 "Just how partisan is Facebook's fake news? We tested it". PCWorld. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  33. "Fake news is dominating Facebook". 6abc Philadelphia. 2016-11-23. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  34. Chen, Adrian (June 2, 2015). "The Agency". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 25, 2016. 
  35. LaCapria, Kim (November 2, 2016), "Snopes' Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors - Snopes.com's updated guide to the internet's clickbaiting, news-faking, social media exploiting dark side.", Snopes.com, retrieved November 19, 2016 
  36. Ben Gilbert (November 15, 2016), "Fed up with fake news, Facebook users are solving the problem with a simple list", Business Insider, retrieved November 16, 2016, Some of these sites are intended to look like real publications (there are false versions of major outlets like ABC and MSNBC) but share only fake news; others are straight-up propaganda created by foreign nations (Russia and Macedonia, among others). 
  37. "Evidence ridiculously thin for Clinton sex network claim". @politifact. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  38. Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs (January 10, 2017). "These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia". BuzzFeed. Retrieved February 12, 2017. 
  39. Alan Ewart (January 12, 2017). "Buzzfeed slammed: Are the Donald Trump 'Golden Showers' claims a step too far?". Inquisitr. Retrieved February 12, 2017. 
  40. {cite web | url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/11/decry-fake-news-revel-sordid-claims-donald-trump-hypocrite/ | author = Rupert Myers | publisher = The Telegraph | date = January 11, 2017 | accessdate = February 12, 2017}}
  41. Neil Clarke (January 15, 2017). "‘Golden Showers’: Zinoviev letter of 2017?". True Viral News. Retrieved February 12, 2017. 
  42. Daniel Payne (February 6, 2017). "16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won". the Federalist. Retrieved February 8, 2017. 
  43. Jeferson Morley (February 2, 2017). "Gorsuch in His Youth: 'Fascism Forever'". Alternet. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  44. Geoffrey Dickens (February 2, 2017). "Fake News: Gorsuch Founded ‘Fascism Forever’ Club in High School". mrc NewsBusters. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  45. Alana Goodman (February 2, 2017). "EXCLUSIVE: Trump's Supreme Court pick founded and led club called 'Fascism Forever' at his elite all-boys Washington prep school". Daily Mail. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  46. http://historum.com/american-history/66886-uss-maine-conspiracy.html | retrieved Feb 12 2017
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  48. Concha, Joe (February 2, 2017). "Fake news did not change result of 2016 election: study". The Hill. Retrieved February 4, 2017. 
  49. Crawford, Krysten. "Stanford study examines fake news and the 2016 presidential election". Stanford News. Stanford University. Retrieved February 4, 2017. 
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  51. Barthel, Michael; Mitchell, Amy; Holcomb, Jesse (2016-12-15). "Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion". Pew Research Center's Journalism Project. Retrieved 2017-01-27. 
  52. Holliway, Kali (January 12, 2017). "14 Fake News Stories Created or Publicized by Donald Trump". AlterNet. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  53. Isaac, Mike (November 12, 2016). "Facebook, in Cross Hairs After Election, Is Said to Question Its Influence". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  54. Stelter, Brian (January 15, 2017). "Facebook to begin warning users of fake news before German election". CNNMoney. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  55. "Clamping down on viral fake news, Facebook partners with sites like Snopes and adds new user reporting". Nieman Lab. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  56. Kuchler, Hannah (January 15, 2017). "Facebook rolls out fake-news filtering service to Germany". Financial Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  57. Constine, Josh. "Facebook now flags and down-ranks fake news with help from outside fact checkers". TechCrunch. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
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