"Fake news" is everywhere and everyone hates it, but no one can seem to agree on what it actually means.
Democrats and Republicans knock heads over whether the "real fake news" comes from CNN or Russian bots. Some writers argue it’s merely an extension of "Yellow Journalism," an old concept reanimated by tech. Others consider it a problem of paramount concern or a weapon of despots.
Mandy Jenkins, the recently promoted editor-in-chief of Storyful, said the meaning of fake news is too broad. She called the term a "word du jour [that] everybody’s starting to hate." Jenkins prefers the term "virtual disinformation" to describe news that is intentionally false or misleading.
Following President Donald Trump’s inaugural Fake News Awards, here’s a quick guide on the seven levels of fake news, with the help of Jenkins and other sources.
A piece of content obviously intended to amuse readers that can be misinterpreted as fact.
In the spectrum of fake news, this is the least harmful, Jenkins said. An amusing example would be the "Gorilla Channel."
Wow, this extract from Wolff’s book is a shocking insight into Trump’s mind: pic.twitter.com/1ZecclggSa
This is the misuse of information to frame an issue completely differently, which "may have some truth, but makes a false claim or context," Jenkins said.
Shortly after the election, a misquotation led to this sensational headline: "Ireland is now officially accepting Trump refugees from the U.S." The quote was attributed to an interview with Mary Heanue, a former official of Inishturk, an island off the west coast of Ireland, in The Irish Central.
The problems? Heanue disputes the context of the quote, saying the conversation wasn’t political. Plus, Inishturk can’t unilaterally accept refugees on behalf of Ireland. Not to mention that Never Trumpers don’t qualify as refugees. And Ireland isn’t accepting them anyway, unless they’re tourists.
Content that connects two unrelated things, where a "photo, caption, or headline promoting a story doesn’t actually match up with the content," Jenkins said, differentiating it from clickbait.
"Consider the promotional images you might see on social media or at the bottom of news sites with the headline like ‘Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Dead,’ with a photo of a celebrity that’s alive," Jenkins said. "Of course, then you click through and find that person wasn’t mentioned in the story after all."
Fake content that purports to come from a real news site.
"We’ve definitely seen stories from websites, such as ABCNews.com.co, ABCNews.co, or CNNNews dot ‘some country code.’ It was made to look like CNN, but some down market look of CNN," Jenkins said.
Content that presents real information, even imagery and video, but is manipulated in some way to tell a different story.
Snopes took a look back on 2017’s "fauxtography," calling out misleading images that followed the year’s biggest stories, ranging from crowd sizes to neo-Nazis and Antifa at Charlottesville, Virginia. Project Veritas also typifies this kind of content with its selectively edited "sting operations."
Everything in this type of story is fake and designed with intent to do harm.
Late last year, a Gateway Pundit story featured unverified claims that women were paid by The Washington Post to make false accusations of sexual assault against then-Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Whatever the president says
A tool wielded by politicians to denounce stories POTUS doesn’t like.
A Gallup/Knight Foundation study found steep partisan divides between Democrats and Republicans on a fake news definition. Republicans generally label stories unfavorable to the president with the epithet, even if it’s factually accurate. Democrats generally hew to the more general term: intentionally misleading or false content.
John McCain slammed Trump’s attacks on the press in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
"The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny, and mislead citizens."
Correction: This story was updated on January 21 to change "ABCNews.com" to "ABCNews.com.co."