What Is Fake News and How Do You Spot It?

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The modern-day disinformation epidemic is not the first chapter in disseminating made-up facts. The so-called age of post-truth existed long before misinformation became known as fake news.

But that term has become an integral part of global political warfare today. It can affect elections, fuel ethnic violence and help crush dissent. So many people want to know what is distorted, credible, and fake news.

Fake news spans multiple styles and practices, from clickbait websites to satirical ones.

In this article, you will find out what is fake news and in what way you can identify it. So, continue reading to learn more.

What Is Fake News?

During the peak of the Cold War, the UK’s foreign office housed the so-called Information Research Department. The IRD’s primary function was to forge documents and produce “fake news stories” later fed to mainstream journalists and academics.

In 1963, the department exploited an incident in Bulgaria where African students left the country, claiming racial discrimination. The IRD disseminated phony press releases, accusing Bulgaria of “white superiority.”

Although seismic changes in online technology have given rise to far more sophisticated campaigns, faking news and spreading falsehoods to confuse or undermine one’s enemy is nothing new.

Russia’s alleged interference in the US 2016 election focused on using bots and troll farms. But whatever the methods, the ultimate objective is to blur the line between fact and fiction.

Fake news, by definition, is the deliberate spreading of disinformation or hoaxes through print, broadcast, or online media outlets.

These fabrications often begin with the title itself. This is where the author can already claim something outrageous and untrue. The wording is also essential, grabbing the reader’s attention and keeping him hooked throughout the article. This is called clickbait in online publications.

A headline needs an accompanying image, and that’s where another cog gets added to the wheel. It might involve an unflattering photo of a person the article is trying to discredit, a provocative image, or even a doctored one.

The next component of a fake news article is the story. The author twists facts, intentionally omitting information and taking quotations out of context.

Objectivity is the first victim. One way to spot a fake news story is by evaluating the degree of bias. If a piece sides with someone without offering much evidence and documentation, it’s a sign that the news is fake. The aim is to misinform the reader about the topic at hand.

These are all just basic steps to identify fake news, and new procedures are being introduced daily. The fake information might be mixed with actual news, so a double and triple check is needed to grasp the story entirely.

A simple Google search can help reveal if the piece is false news or if others are reporting on this matter. If more reputable news sources don’t cover this story or the information is inconsistent, the article is likely fake.

Why Is Fake News a Problem?

A recent study revealed that 50% of Americans believe fake news is a bigger threat than terrorism and violent crime. Most of those who participated in the study claimed that the political motives behind fake news undermine the nation’s confidence in government and each other.

However, the danger is that fake news could become a catch-all term used to discredit any piece of news that someone simply doesn’t agree with, regardless of whether it includes any fake information.

The rise of fake news in the 21st century happened due to social media, where an eye-catching headline often turns a meek story into a trending post on Facebook. This massive surge in deliberate misinformation harmed the credibility of online platforms. Since its primary goal is to misinform, the only party benefiting is the one spreading the propaganda.

Types of Fake News

Not all fake news is created equally. Sometimes the premise is not to deliberately misinform but rather to entertain or simply increase sales by relying on sensationalism. One of these methods is commonly referred to as yellow journalism.

The term describes techniques that involve the exaggeration of news headlines and gossip-mongering.

As such, we must distinguish between the different types of fake stories, starting from classic bait and switching up to devious hoaxes that can shape national sentiment. Here are the most common formats you may encounter in newspapers and online.


Clickbait is most commonly defined as deceptive content designed to attract attention and encourage users to click on a link to a particular webpage. Regarding fake news, headlines are the bread and butter of catching the reader’s attention.

These may not necessarily be completely bogus but are always written in a way to provoke curiosity. It may be a teaser about a particular food that men should avoid or 7 types of banned books where “number 4 will surprise you.”

It may also be a word salad that’s both highly descriptive while not saying anything of real value.

Hoax Websites and Pranks

Some classic examples of fake news are in the branch of slapstick comedy. Their hypothetical banana peel comes in the one-two punch they’ll give you throughout the text, with a snarky “gotcha!” at the article’s final point.

While there have been some seriously persuasive newspaper articles in the past, the audience rarely reacted positively when it discovered it was all an elaborate ruse.

Satire Sites

The polar opposite of prank websites is satirical sites. They may fall into the same news fabrication boat, but they don’t fall within the category of traditional fake news media. One of the main functions of these sites is to critique the current political climate through parody. In most cases, the websites are marked as satirical and ask readers not to look at it as a news source.

However, satire is increasingly used to promote certain political agendas and motives.

Propaganda and Biased Journalism

News reports that impose a particular bias on a global audience are designed to influence the readers by fuelling existing interests and prejudices. So, what is fake news doing to consumers of both digital and traditional news? It makes it increasingly difficult for them to distinguish between verified facts and rumors or propaganda.

These campaigns come in many shapes and forms, from highly opinionated pieces posing as objective journalism to directly advocating for a particular political party or individual.

Well-written biased articles are some of the hardest forms of fake news to detect. It is much easier for a good writer to deceive his audience than for a bad writer.

How to Stop Fake News

The fake news business model and the fake stories it produces heavily rely on people sharing links and getting things to go viral. The owners of the websites sell the advertising space. More clicks mean better chances to charge a pretty penny to advertisers that only see the numbers and not how credible the website is.

Below are the ways to stop fake news:

  • Never share news or posts on any social media platform without fact-checking it. Opening a browser and searching for related news or information only takes ten seconds. Evaluate whether the sources are credible, updated, and bias-free.
  • Get news from news sources. One of the easiest ways to stop fake news is to get your facts straight. Relying on only one source is insufficient to prove the information’s credibility. Mainstream news is all over the place. It just needs a few clicks to get a handful of them. This way, cross-checking some data will be much easier.
  • Distinguish fact from opinion. News agencies and websites intend to write articles based on their intended audience. Thus, they create specific spaces or segments dedicated to people’s views concerning certain stories. In newspapers, it can be: Editorial, News, Letters to the Editors, Opinion, or even Entertainment sections.
  • Watch out for red flags. A distinction must be made between legitimate news and fake news. To identify them, look for the following: unusual links; clickbait headlines; typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings; and lack of sources.

Bottom Line

The line between legitimate news articles and fake ones is getting increasingly blurred. It’s not entirely illegal to create a fake article. However, it can lead to lawsuits if it stirs massive controversies or harms the general public.

Fear-mongering is highly dangerous. Fueling prejudices can lead to violence, instability, and other forms of unrest.

So, how does fake news contribute to this equation? In times of political uncertainty and widespread polarization, fake news stories can be the spark that leads to explosions and bloodshed.

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