Jesse Harrison Lowe sheds some light on the difference between fake news and satire
We’re all familiar with the news. Six o’clock on BBC One every day (other news outlets are available). However, in recent times, the term “fake news” has become more prominent, but it feels as if no one has ever explained what it is. So, what is ‘fake news’, and more importantly, why do we need to be aware and cautious of it?
Fake news, or hoax news, is a term which has been used more and more in the past six months or so. Most recently, it is a phrase which has been used by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, mainly as an accusation towards journalists that what they’re reporting is untrue or inaccurate. However, it is important to understand that fake news is more than just an accusation. One definition of it suggests that websites use fake news as a method of generating more traffic to their sites. Seems fairly harmless? Not entirely. The specific aim of hoax news is to mislead, rather than to entertain. There is often confusion between satirical writing and attempts to deceive, which can be difficult to spot. In a world which seems to be getting more and more unrecognisable as the days go on, some members of society struggle to distinguish between truth and reality. For example, those who might not know much about the US election might be leered in by absurd and fake headlines, that may strike them as truthful.
“The specific aim of hoax news is to mislead, rather than to entertain.”
Some journalists have accused outlets such as ‘The Daily Mash’ and ‘The Onion’ for generating hoax news. This proves how it can be difficult to see the fine line between satirical writing -the known aim for both outlets- and a genuine attempt at misleading the public. One headline which springs to mind was created by, now-offline hoax news website, ‘WTOE 5 News’. The headline stated Pope Francis had endorsed Trump for the Presidency in the run up to the election. To many people, this title is clearly tongue-in-cheek and untrue, however, some readers saw the headline and changed their behaviour accordingly. It’s important to note that while one person may find this funny, another may not see the caption in the same manner, and would be inclined to believe it as factual truth, without checking its source. Technically, satirical writing of this type falls under the umbrella term of ‘fake news’, as it generates an authentic looking article based around an untrue story. However, the subtlety of the sarcasm-implying headline is what sets it apart from other forms of fake news. It could be said that this type of reporting should be considered as something of a harmless hoax news bracket, or furthermore just as satire.
While humour and parody lie at it’s heart, there have been recent cases of fake news going too far, and becoming deeply serious. It is for this reason that we must be very aware of what we read, where we read it, and how we interpret it. Misunderstanding an article which doesn’t accurately describe a situation or an event could lead to a troubling issue. The example I am about to use to illustrate this point is rather graphic and unpleasant. You’ve been warned… A piece of fake news which originated on the online forum 4chan was published before the US general election. The post connected Washington DC-based pizzeria “Comet Ping Pong” to a paedophile ring lead by the Clintons, and other senior Democrats (all of which has been proven to be completely inaccurate and fabricated). Upon reading the article, a 28-year-old man opened fire on the pizzeria in an attempt to free the children, which he believed were being held in the restaurant. Although the actions were extreme regardless, one individual’s actions over a fake news article, ended in a likely prison sentence for a young man who saw his chance to be a hero. This shows us just how serious the effects of fake news can be.
“Upon reading the article, a 28 year old man opened fire on a pizzeria”
So, is fake news the creation of totally fabricated stories? In some cases, yes. Is it the manipulation of facts, figures and quotes in order to portray an argument? In other cases, yes. Is it a tongue-in-cheek piece of writing to make somebody laugh? In a majority of cases, yes. Whilst countless fake news stories are designed to amuse, some are created with the sole intention of misleading and tricking the reader. ‘Fake news’ is likely a term we will hear increasingly over the coming years, which makes it vital for us to be aware of what we read, and more importantly, the regard we hold it in. So, the next time you read that a “Christian Anti-Masturbation Mascot Arrested for Public Masturbation at Japanese Embassy”, maybe read it with a pinch of salt. I was always told to never believe what I read on the internet. That could not be any truer than now.