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Evaluating Information

Fake News


Entry from Issues & Controversies: Overviews and Pro/Con Arguments

Fake news is misinformation created and shared strategically to confuse or misinform usually to political ends. Of course, Fake News can come in many different forms. For examples and definitions of the many different forms of Fake News, go to the Types of Misinformation section of this LibGuide.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Internet enabled news organizations—and individuals—to publish stories that could reach millions of readers in seconds. It also led to the rise of many news sites that posted and re-posted articles quickly, sometimes without verifying them, paving the way for the proliferation of fake news.

Such news may have affected voter attitudes during the 2016 presidential election. According to an analysis by the website Buzzfeed in November 2016, online engagement with fake news stories exploded in the three months before Election Day. "[T]he top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook," the site reported in November, "generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others." A study by Buzzfeed and Ipsos, a global market research firm, surveyed more than 3,000 Americans about their response to fake news headlines—including stories claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump for president and that Trump had sent his personal plane to rescue stranded U.S. Marines. About 75 percent of respondents who recalled having seen or heard about such stories judged them as "somewhat" or "very" accurate.

Various investigations have discovered that many purveyors of fake news write fictional articles to earn income through advertising revenue. Several teenagers and young adults in a town in Macedonia, for example, were found to have made money posting a variety of fake news stories. "[T]hey learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook," Buzzfeed editor Craig Silverman and journalist Lawrence Alexander reported in November 2016, "and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters." Many of the posts emanating from that town were plagiarized or based on stories previously published on ultra-conservative or conspiracy theory websites based in the United States.


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