Over the course of the past year, I have come to regret everything about the phrase “fake news.”
When it comes to the facts, Merriam-Webster defines a fact as “something that has actual existence” and “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” So: it’s a fact that a majority of women in the world have experienced some form of gender-based harassment. That’s not politics, and just because there are exceptions to every rule, that doesn’t mean the fact is untrue.
We wind up going down a dangerous path when we start saying that facts we don’t like are “fake news.” Here’s the evolution of the term and why it matters.
Fake news was actually a useful term coined to describe news stories that were spread online with no basis in fact. For instance, there was a fake video of Vice President Mike Pence saying some mean things to former VP Joe Biden making the rounds on Democratic-leaning fake news outlets shortly after the election results came in. The now-infamous Pizzagate conspiracy convinced many Republican-leaning Trump supporters that a pedophile ring was being run by the Clintons out of a pizzeria. Both were totally untrue but gained millions and millions of shares and views online.
When it comes to actual fake news, it’s spread on all sides of the aisle. The Wall Street Journal has an excellent tool that removes the real news outlets (like the New York Times, Washington Post, and yes, even Fox News) to just show what people in liberal and conservative circles are sharing that may be fake news. Due to algorithms, you may not even know what people on the other side are saying, so this is a great way to check yourself to ensure you’re not spreading fake news by accident.
Here’s what fake news isn’t: news you don’t like. So, for instance, the investigation into Russian interference in the United States election process (which has been proven to be the source of many fake news articles), is not fake news. It can be debated how much influence this interference had, or how much it matters for the future, but it’s not fake.
Also not fake news: the investigation into potential collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. There was enough evidence of such an act that a special counsel was hired to investigate. We can all speculate about the outcome of that investigation, but the idea that the facts that make up the case are just fake simply because you’re happy with the outcome of the election is preposterous.