Fake news, hoaxes, lies, misinformation, and errors

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
by Cameron Shelley

Will Oremus at Slate has written an interesting piece on the semantic spread of the term "fake news."  The term recently came to prominence over the propagation of fraudulent news items as a tool of persuasion in the recent US election.

However, the term has spread to cover any claim that its critic regards as a politically-motivated falsehood.  Oremus argues that the term would be more useful, and more broadly accepted, if it were confined to its original ambit, such as the story that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump.

Indeed, there are many terms available for labelling and condemning false claims.  Here are a few: fake, bogus, forgery, fraud, lie, falsehood, misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentation, propaganda, imposture, masquerade, parody, travesty, and opinion.  What others have I missed?

To be honest, I think that the term "fraudulent news" would be more appropriate.  Fraud implies fakery and misrepresentation but also conveys an intent to deceive for one's own advantage.  The story that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump is fraudulent news whereas Trump's claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax is not.  The latter would be simply a falsehood or perhaps a lie, depending on what Trump actually believes (assuming he actually has any particular belief on the matter).

When he did the "Weekend update" segment on Saturday Night Live, Norm Macdonald used to begin with the tagline, "And now, the fake news."  By "fake news," he meant parody.  Perhaps the term "fake" is itself too broad do the job that Oremus would like it limited to.