Why ‘fake news’ is a Flawed Term
The term “fake news” is regarded as inadequate both by scientists and policy makers as it is too nebulous and imprecise. A recent study of thirty four academic papers (Tandoc et al, 2017) concluded that “fake news” encompasses a wide range of phenomena: news satire, news parody, fabrication, manipulation, advertising, and propaganda. Moreover, “fake news” is misleading, as it is also increasingly used by politicians “to describe news organisations whose coverage they find disagreeable. In this way, it’s becoming a mechanism by which the powerful can clamp down upon, restrict, undermine and circumvent the free press.” (Wardle & Derakhshan, 2017).
The term “fake news” has also been rejected by the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) appointed by the European Commission to advise on fake news and online disinformation (p.10; Buning et al, 2018), as well as the non-profit coalition First Draft News, which is dedicated to improving skills and standards in the reporting and sharing of online information (Wardle, 2017).
The UK Parliamentary Inquiry into disinformation and “fake news” makes the following recommendation:
“The term ‘fake news’ is bandied around with no clear idea of what it means, or agreed definition. The term has taken on a variety of meanings, including a description of any statement that is not liked or agreed with by the reader. We recommend that the Government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the Government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement.”
Therefore, instead of “fake news” we adopt the information disorder theoretical framework (Wardle, 2017; Wardle & Derakshan, 2017), which defines three types of false and/or harmful information:
- Mis-information: false information that is shared inadvertently, without meaning to cause harm.
- Dis-information: intending to cause harm, by deliberately sharing false information.
- Mal-information: genuine information or opinion shared to cause harm, e.g. hate speech, harassment.