Image: Newspaper Boxes adapted from photo by Mike Licht via flickr, 25 Aug. 2013. CC BY 2.0.
A preliminary step in recognizing fake news is to recognize the attributes of different news story types.
Media professionals - journalists, editors, publishers - can be seen as gatekeepers of access to current events information. They determine the news values of a story and exercise news judgment in determining what is newsworthy to publish.
News stories can be divided into two primary categories: hard news and soft news.
Hard news stories present accurate facts about current events of significance to a broad audience. Hard news is described as "that which is new, interesting, and true." The attributes of hard news include:
Soft news stories present narratives of personal, social or cultural interest. Often called features, soft news includes both timeless and universal stories of human triumph or tragedy, as well as timely coverage of sports, fashion, entertainment, celebrities, trends, etc. The attributes of soft news include:
Hard news is neither better nor worse than soft news. Reading both hard news and soft news stories about the same topic can help us empathize with people experiencing major news events, and help us better understand the significance, breadth, and duration of impacts from these events.
Soft news often develops later in the information timeline as journalists have more time to analyze stories, identify interesting viewpoints, interview sources, and develop storylines to contextualize the facts presented in hard news stories.
However, soft news is also criticized as being motivated by revenue generation rather than providing information in the public interest, and is sometimes derided as 'junk' or 'fluff' news.
Image: Information Timeline by adstarkel on May 7, 2014, via flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Fake news is inaccurate, false, or misleading information about current events.
Fake news can take the form of either hard or soft news.
Some varieties of fake news include click bait, satire, misinformation, propaganda, and disinformation.
Click bait (clickbait, link bait, linkbait) refers to the use of sensationalist headlines to drive click-through traffic to a site.
Clickbait headlines often manipulate powerful emotions - including "anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, [or] surprise" - to prompt the desired behavior - clicking the link.
Attributes of click bait include:
Politics, war, and social mores are often the targets of satire.
Satire and irony assume the audience is 'in on the joke' and understands the hidden meaning of the news story, in which what is stated is not what is meant, or even opposite from reality.
The attributes of satirical news include:
The attributes of misinformation include:
The Forbes article, "'Fake News' And How The Washington Post Rewrote Its Story On Russian Hacking Of The Power Grid," by Kalex Leetaru, provides a timeline of the Dec. 2016 publication of an invalidated Washington Post story about the hacking of an electricity supplier in Vermont. The Post's fact-checking and article corrections protocols are called into question.
Propaganda is a news management technique to manipulate the thoughts, beliefs, values, attitudes, and actions of an audience by presenting biased information or 'spin' to the benefit of some special interest.
Propaganda often uses entertainment as a means of distributing misleading information.
Propaganda is often characterized as white, black, or gray.
The attributes of white propaganda include:
Black propaganda is also called disinformation. The attributes of black propaganda include:
Gray propaganda is in the middle of the propaganda spectrum and combines attributes of white and black propaganda. For instance, the source may be misidentified, and the information may be accurate but misleading, or unintentionally inaccurate.
In the Vice News article "Tequila, Painted Pearls, and Prada — How the CIA Helped Produce 'Zero Dark Thirty,'" Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson broke the story of the CIA's involvement in the production of the award-winning 2012 dramatization of the pursuit and assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, based on redacted internal documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request. This is an example of gray propaganda in favor of the CIA's torture program.
Disinformation, also called black propaganda, is the intentional distribution of misleading, inaccurate or fabricated information for the purpose of manipulating public opinion to the benefit of a special interest. The attributes of disinformation include: