Fake News vs. False Information: the term, "fake news," is often linked to politics and this can distract from the broader picture of the concept of "false information," which covers a wide range of topics that are purposefully distorted for the purposes of spreading disinformation. False information is spread in many areas beyond politics. Some of these areas are listed below.
Junk News, Hoax News, or Pseudo-News: are other terms that may be used instead of "fake news." They are also created to purposefully and deliberately to spread false information. The development of digital news has dramatically expanded both the spread of and audience for this type of bad information.
Clickbait: these sources provide some credible content, but distort it by exaggerating, misleading, or questionable headlines, social media descriptions, and/or images.These are stories that are deliberately created to attract as many website visitors as possible, because the more clicks, the more advertising money is made for these websites.
Yellow Journalism or Tabloid Journalism: these are newspapers that present little or no credible or well-researched news. Their purpose is to scare people with misleading headlines, altered images, made-up interviews, and fake experts.They target a low-information and vulnerable audience who tend not to question what they are reading, or simply may be entertained by it. They exist purely to increase sales and revenue for the publisher.
Satire or Parody: these sources use humor, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, satire, and false information to comment on current events. They purposefully fake news sources to entertain, not to inform or educate. The publication, The Onion, is an example of satire.
State-Sponsored News: is a form of propaganda that exists under authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, which publishes news under strict control. The audience is told what to think about events and ignore what they see or know to be true. usually casts the
Junk Science: this type of false information promotes ideas that claim to be science-based (psuedo-science), but are not; the belief that if something is "natural" it is good (naturalistic fallacy); as well as other scientifically false or dubious claims. Like all other forms of false information the purpose is to generate revenue and profit for the creators.
Deepfakes: this type of false information is a form of visual deception. Fake videos are created with digital software, machine learning (artificial intelligence),and face swapping technology. Images may be combined to create new footage that depicts events, statements or action that never actually happened. They can be very convincing.
The Big Lie is used as a blinding propaganda technique - the lie MUST be true because who '"...would have the impudence to distort the truth (the property of being in accord with fact or reality) so infamously.'"
Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf
False information can distort people’s beliefs, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Repetition is a great tool when used to reinforce positive and productive messages, and extremely dangerous when false information is continuously repeated by people in power positions, whose goal is to control the thoughts and beliefs of a group for personal gain.
Repetition can numb the mind. It has been scientifically proven repeatedly, that when people are presented with evidence that proves something 100% correct, quite often not only they refuse to acknowledge the facts, they double-down on their beliefs in false information. They have willingly or unwillingly abandoned their own power of independent and critical thinking in exchange for what, exactly?
By treating fake news as real, people put themselves and others at risk in a number of critical ways:
Health - believing the Big Lie that Covid-19/coronavirus is a hoax or "just like the flu," people refuse to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others. They may refuse effective treatments or seek "cures" that may either not work or may cause themselves or others serious injury, illness, or death.
Finances - people risk losing their savings, their retirement income, or going into significant debt by giving away hard-earned money thinking they will get rich quick, or a loved one will be miraculously cured.
Relationships - people put not only themselves at risk but also the health of finances of loved ones; On a societal level fake news can encourages hate speech, bullying, violence, discrimination, and bigotry against targeted groups.
The Chaos is the Point
Scholars who study modern disinformation tactics have identified examples such as proclaiming "coronavirus is a hoax" as “censorship through noise.” The purpose of this sort of propaganda blizzard is not to inspire conviction in a certain set of facts; it’s to bombard people with so many contradictory claims, conspiracy theories, what-abouts, and distortions people simply throw up their hands in confusion and exhaustion.
- McKay Coppins, The Atlantic, March 11, 2020.
Authoritarian blindness - a term for the tendency of an authoritarian follower to ignore what is happening around them and be unable or unwilling to take appropriate action in response.
In an article, "How the Coronavirus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw" by Zeynep Tufekci (linked below), describes how authoritarian blindness played a role in the Chinese government’s early response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In early December, a strange cluster of patients from a local seafood market, which also sold wildlife for consumption, started showing up in Wuhan hospitals. These initial patients developed a fever and pneumonia that did not seem to be caused by any known viruses. Before the month of December was out, the hospitals in Wuhan knew that the coronavirus was spreading among humans. On January 1, police said they had punished eight medical workers for “rumors.”
Some of these medical workers contracted the disease, and one doctor died. For several more weeks, the Chinese government continued to suppress information, rather than to listen, learn, and take appropriate action.
On January 23, after letting the coronavirus spread for nearly two months, the Chinese government imposed a drastic lockdown. Today, nearly 700 million Chinese citizens are living under one form of restrictions.
The doctors on the front lines who initially warned about the disease were ignored and sometimes punished:
“If people are too afraid to talk, and if punishing people for ‘rumors’ becomes the norm, a doctor punished for spreading news of a disease in one province becomes just another routine day rather than an indication of impending crisis.”
Authoritarian blindness not only harmed the community where the outbreak first occurred, but for the entire world, as well.
Truth and facts are not optional.
The key questions to ask:
"How do you know? What evidence do you have?
Will it hold up to scrutiny?"
How Civil Society Can Combat Misinformation and Hate Speech Without Making it Worse
The 3Ds of Disinformation -- Detect, Document, and Debunk
Detect: In the detection phase, we investigate suspicious sources to determine if it is legitimate and representing itself accurately.
Document: In this phase we compile the evidence and document the details that verify the sources is not legitimate or accurate.
Debunk: We assess the impact on the misinformation on specific issues, and demonstrate how it causes harm to individuals, communities, population groups, states, and countries.
An in-depth look at this topic is presented in this 11-page eBook (linked below):