the taxonomy of fake news

The taxonomy of fake news

Search, ‘fake news’ on Google and you will be offered just a few results from the approximately 167,000,000 results that Google has found for that term.

Fake news is everywhere… Well in both senses of the word. It seems that almost everyone is talking about fake news, and a whole lot of people are pushing fake news.

But just what is fake news?

Claire Wardle, Leading strategy and research for First Draft, has put some work into helping us be more specific when we talk about fake news.

She talks about fake news being on a spectrum from the less bad to the downright made up. Starting at the less bad she lists…

  • Satire & Parody – No intention to cause harm but has potential to fool.
  • False connection – e.g. Clickbase. When headlines don’t support the content, (I would have said when the content does not support the headlines)
  • Misleading content – Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual
  • False context – When genuine content is shared with false contextual information
  • Imposter content – When genuine sources are impersonated
  • Manipulated content – When information or imagery is manipulated to deceive
  • Fabricated content– New content, that is 100% false is designed to deceive and to do harm. (I would add, or to promote a cause)

There is another very big use of the term, ‘fake news,’ that Claire Wardle does not covere here. That is when the news is genuine, well reported, correct in every detail, but when it is not what the person calling it fake news wants you to hear.

This is most commonly seen when the right leaning conservative independent media are pointing out problems with the liberal elite and the left-leaning establishment or media.

An example from today on the BBC.

I guess that this could actually be called, ‘fake science,’ but it is much the same in the way that it is portrayed. Which end of Claire Wardle’s list do you think this list comes from?

The headline for this story is, “Star’s seven Earth-sized worlds set record.”

Well, the earth-sized world did not set any records today, but leaving aside that fact let us just look at the content of this story. Let us take a look at just a few phrases from it.

“Researchers say that all seven could potentially support liquid water on the surface, depending on the other properties of those planets.

Well, yes, and of course all seven may not have any water at all.

“Three are within the conventional “habitable” zone where life is considered a possibility.”

‘Possible,’ is another weasel word. Almost anything is possible. All seven planets may be colonised initially with ratchet screwdrivers, but it is not likely.

“The planets… are described in the journal Nature.”

All that has been observed is a dimming in the light from the star, there precious little description yet possible.

“They could have some liquid water – and maybe life.”

They could be flowing with milk and honey, and there may be a continuous hot dog themed fanfare running on all seven planets.

‘Could’, ‘possibly’, and ‘we think’ are what we now accept as science.

On top of all of this is the use of imagery that suggests that we know an awful lot more than the start light dims occasionally.

There is an awful lot of detail in these images for planets that we have never seen.

Strangely enough, Claire Wardle, the same lady that is talking about this spectrum of fake news, was on BBC’s Newsnight saying, “Our brains are adapted to trust visuals much more.” The same day that the BBC is using visuals to promote the idea that there are these seven planets that are likely to have life on them. I would put this just one step away from Claire Wardle’s worse end of the fake news spectrum, as ‘Manipulated content.” What about you?

Tweet from BBC Newsnight

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