While enjoying a little more peace and quiet after the election train has passed, I was curious as to why fake news was hitting the headlines so much. I was quite surprised at the phenomena, why it existed at all and why people were making such a fuss.

What is fake news?

Fake news is exactly what it says it is, fake. Made up news stories with no link to truth created purely for entertainment. It has actually been around for a while, but since hitting social media and having the effect it did on the election, it has recently gotten much more airtime than usual.

What is the point?

There are two points to fake news, to have a laugh at people’s expense and to make money. The first, is for the news writers and fake news website owners. They make something outrageous up, publish it and laugh at all the people who lap it up. They laugh even harder at those who think it’s real.

The second point is all about the money. Fake news websites carry advertising and the more people read their stories the more advertising revenue they get.

Why is fake news dangerous?

Fake news is dangerous on a couple of levels. On the first, some people don’t get that it’s fake. Sad but true. They take it as truth and form a belief around it. Or worse, they already have a head full of bad ideas which are then confirmed by fake news. Confirmation bias.

On another level, a fake news piece is published on a fake news site where most visitors know it is for entertainment only. They tweet it or put it on Facebook. Someone else reads it but misses the bit about it being fake. Another online journalist sees it and writes it up without attributing the original source. Someone reads their piece and takes it as fact.

Even the usual using multiple sources or fact checking can be fooled in this way. That is why it is so dangerous.

Why is fake news so popular?

Fake news is popular primarily because it can be amusing. Ever since the internet took the power away from corporate news outlets, the people have had access to free information without a corporate agenda. This feeds through to fake news sites. We are now so used to scraping our news from multiple, often unrecognized, sources to avoid bias that we are more receptive to all kinds of messages.

Plus, it is entertaining.

This article on Zerohedge is quite interesting and delves a little deeper into confirmation bias, propaganda and the war between mainstream media and the truth. It makes for a good read as long as you have a good pinch of salt with you.