“Ridiculous and Untrue – FAKE NEWS!”: The Impact of Labeling Fake News

“Ridiculous and Untrue – FAKE NEWS!”: The Impact of Labeling Fake News

Anna Grazulis (Marist College, USA) and Ryan Rogers (Butler University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8535-0.ch009
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Beyond the spread of fake news, the term “fake news” has been used by people on social media and by people in the Trump administration to discredit reporting and show disagreement with the content of a story. This study offers a series of defining traits of fake news and a corresponding experiment testing its impact. Overall, this study shows that fake news, or at least labeling fake news can impact the gratifications people derive from news. Further, this study provides evidence that the impact of fake news might, in some cases, rely on whether or not the fake news complies with preexisting beliefs.
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Background Of Fake News

One definition says that fake news stories are “intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers “(Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017, p. 213). Another article offered a broader definition, “false or misleading content — hoaxes, rumors, conspiracy theories, fabricated reports, click-bait headlines, and even satire” (Shao, Ciampaglia, Varol, Flammini, & Menczer, 2017). Clearly, those definitions are not in complete agreement though it has generally been agreed that fake news is deliberately misleading content (Dorf & Tarrow, 2017; Shao, et al., 2017). Despite the lack of a broad scholarly consensus on modern fake news, the concept of fake news might be related to other concepts. Indeed, it has shades of yellow journalism, propaganda, satirical news, and entertainment news reports but none of these definitions, for the reasons stated below, completely encompass fake news.

The concept of fake news might be traced in the U.S. to yellow journalism, or highly sensationalized journalism (Kolodny, 2016). In a feud to sell more papers, newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer of New York World and William Randolph Hearst of New York Journal printed stories that over-exaggerated and sensationalized Cuba’s struggle for independence in the late 1800s (Atkins, 2016). Some of the reports were false, but they nurtured anti-Spanish sentiments throughout the U.S.; and eventually resulted in unverified blame on the Spanish for the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, which led to abundant American support during the Spanish-American War (Atkins, 2016). Notably, this account of the Spanish-American War has been challenged (Kolodny, 2016) but the relevance to fake news is still germane. This can be tied to the notion that fake news is frequently created to garner clicks and make money (Sydell, 2016), not unlike Randolph and Hearst. Indeed, the creation of fake news can be quite lucrative if a story attracts web traffic and the site sells ad space (Ohlheiser, 2016).

As such, there is a noteworthy overlap between fake news and yellow journalism but fake news may have more deliberate machinations than simply making money. As a result, propaganda is another concept that might illuminate fake news. Welch asserts, that there are many different definitions of propaganda but that, most agree that the purpose of propaganda is to influence opinion (Welch, 2003). According to Welch, propaganda serves an agenda, persuades and eliminates other options. Fake news articles may appear to have this goal but fake news “does not demand that the purveyors of fake news must always have an ideological agenda: fake news is not the same as propaganda” (Gelfert, 2018, p. 110).

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