What is "Fake News"

The term "fake news" has been used increasingly in the last several years, but does not always refer to the same thing. Because false information can come in many shapes and forms, the term "fake news" can conjure up very different thoughts depending on the person using/hearing it and their own personal experiences. For the purposes of this guide we can define "fake news" as “purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news” (Zimdars & McLeod, 2020). 

We can further break down this term by looking at three varieties of "fake news." The first two are more common, but the third can be equally as important:

  1. Disinformation - Content that is intentionally false and designed to cause harm. It is motivated by three distinct factors: to make money; to have political influence, either foreign or domestic; or to cause trouble for the sake of it.
  2. Misinformation - False content but the person sharing doesn’t realize that it is false or misleading. Often a piece of disinformation picked up by someone who doesn’t realize it’s false and shares it with their networks without the intent to do harm.
  3. Malinformation - Genuine information that is shared out of context with an intent to cause harm.


7 Types of Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation

Now that we have defined the 3 key terms associated with the buzzword "fake news" we can try to apply them to the content we encounter regularly. Claire Wardle's article "Understanding Information Disorder"  identifies 7 common types of mis-, dis-, or malinformation. The table below provides an overview of these types ranked from least to most harmful.

Satire / Parody

  • no intention to cause harm, but has the potential to fool
  • Least Harmful

False Connection

  • When headlines, visuals, or captions do not match the content
  • Less Harmful

Misleading Content

  • Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual
  • Less Harmful

False Context

  • When genuine content is shared with false contextual information
  • Harmful

Imposter Content

  • When genuine sources are impersonated
  • More Harmful

Manipulated Content

  • When genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive
  • More Harmful

Fabricated Content

  • New content that is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm
  • Most harmful

Learn More

Watch the video below for more information on what "fake news" means.