Fake News

Real Issues in Modern Communication

by Russell Chun (Volume editor) Susan J. Drucker (Volume editor)
Textbook VIII, 246 Pages
Series: Mass Communication and Journalism , Volume 26

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • 1. Introduction (Susan J. Drucker and Russell Chun)
  • Theoretical and Practical Issues
  • 2. Fake News, Collective Memory, and Political Discourse (Charles C. Self)
  • 3. Information Disorder: Toward an Interdisciplinary Framework for Research and Policy Making (Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan)
  • 4. Understanding the Demand-side of Misinformation and Analyzing Solutions (Subramaniam Vincent)
  • 5. Seeing and Disbelieving: The Persuasiveness of Disinformation with Visuals and Data-driven Images (Russell Chun)
  • 6. Mobilizing Disinformation: Digital Memes and the Weaponization of Images (James N. Cohen)
  • 7. Real Digitalization, Real Regulation @ Fake News (Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert)
  • 8. Fake News Needs First Amendment Protection (Paul Levinson)
  • Case Studies
  • 9. “Myanmar’s Side of the Story”: A Compound of State Manipulation of Legislation and the Usage of Fake News as a Tool of Propaganda (Winnie Thaw and Aung Kaung Myat)
  • 10. Fake News or Unwanted News: Untangling the Convoluted Term of “Fake News” in the Context of China (Jingsi Christina Wu)
  • Perspectives on the Press and the Presidency
  • 11. Accuracy and Persuasive Uses of “Fake News” (Richard E. Vatz)
  • 12. The Truth under Attack (Joseph Peyronnin)
  • About the Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index


Figure 3.1: Examining how mis-, dis- and mal-information intersect around the concepts of falseness and harm. We include some types of hate speech and harassment under the mal- information category, as people are often targeted because of their personal history or affiliations. While the information can sometimes be based on reality (for example targeting someone based on their religion) the information is being used strategically to cause harm.

Figure 3.2: The three elements of information disorder.

Figure 3.3: The three phases of information disorder.

Figure 3.4: Using the example of the “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” fabricated news article to test the three phases of information disorder.

Figure 3.5: Questions to ask about each element of an example of information disorder.

Figure 5.1: The most shared graphic on Breitbart’s Facebook page in 2016 garnered over half a million shares.

Figure 5.2: A popular meme falsely suggests Hillary Clinton was in ill health during the 2016 Presidential election.

Figure 5.3: A meme peddled a false quote to question Donald Trump’s loyalty to the Republican Party.

Figure 5.4: A map on Breitbart claimed to show the popular vote for Donald Trump in the heartland of the country, but unethically cherry-picked data and used geography to exaggerate population.

Figure 5.5: A cartogram more accurately represents population by proportionately distorting geographic boundaries. Credit: Mark Newman, University of Michigan.

Figure 5.6: A Fox News broadcast graphic misrepresents the proportional difference between the two bars by not starting the vertical axis at zero.

Figure 5.7: A misleading chart on Planned Parenthood services shown at a Congressional hearing uses different scales for each data series, resulting in false conclusions.

Figure 5.8: The same data in Figure 5.7 redrawn with a consistent axis for both data series. Credit: PolitiFact.

Figure 6.1: Russian Embassy meme. Source: Twitter.com @RussianEmbassy.

Figure 6.2: Wonka meme. Source: shadowfear92, deviantart.com.

Figure 6.3: Pepper Spraying Cop meme. Source: Mary Madigan, Flickr.com.

Figure 6.4: Tank Man meme “Big Yellow Ducks”. Source: Attributed to Weibo.

Figure 6.5: Donald Trump retweet from @codyave [Tweet deleted and archived at https://cheezburger.com/8575118336/political-memes-donald-trump-tweets-pepe-trump].

Figure 6.6: “OK” gesture dog-whistle meme [Account deleted, author screengrab].


Susan J. Drucker and Russell Chun

In the late 19th century, breast cancer was treated with a surgical procedure known as a radical mastectomy. The surgery involved not only resecting the tumor, but adjacent tissue in ever wider concentric circles that involved the removal of the breast, lymph, muscle, and sometimes even bone. Today, the procedure is rarely done because the disfigurement is unnecessary and ineffective. But at the time, little was known how cancer worked and it was assumed that it spread outward from an origin like more familiar ailments such as growing mold or fungus.

Addressing fake news in today’s communication environment is not unlike these early efforts at tackling breast cancer. We recognize the danger, but we struggle with the underlying motivations and mechanisms. Without understanding the varieties and nuances of the malady, we risk applying ineffective remedies relying on assumptions that only work for legacy media. As does cancer, fake news hijacks the normal networks that power communication to spread, infect, and mutate. Sometimes it hides, sometimes it does not. In this dizzying post-truth, post-fact, fake news body politic, the onslaught and speed of potentially untrue, incorrect or fabricated information (some crafted and weaponized, some carelessly shared), can cause a loss of our intellectual health. If we fail to have a common truthful basis for discussions of opinion, the integrity of our entire community suffers.

This anthology is designed to provide a survey of technological, ethical, and legal issues raised by falsehoods, particularly social media misinformation. The volume explores visual and data dissemination, business practices, international perspectives and case studies. With misinformation and misleading information being propagated using a variety of media such as memes, data, charts, photos, tweets, posts, and articles, an understanding of the mechanisms and changing communication landscape is essential to move in the right direction with academic, industry, and government initiatives to inoculate ourselves from the dangers of fake news.

←1 | 2→

We hear of shared fictions and post fact politics. Increasingly, fact checkers are relied upon as they perform an important public service. Fact checkers from academia, news organizations, and non-profits police conflicting narratives and maintain vigilance amid the bombardment of assertions, rumors, and viral stories we are told to believe. We are repeatedly told that we have entered the terrifying new era of post-truth, in which not just particular facts but entire histories might be fake with devastating consequences that, in the case of the persecuted Rohingya in Myanmar, result in no less than genocide. The politicized term, “fake news” took center stage during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and its aftermath but we had already entered the age of “truthiness” when, in 2005, The American Dialect Society voted “truthiness” the word of the year (Truthiness voted 2005 word of the year, 2006). Coined by Stephen Colbert, an American comedian who exposed the hypocrisy of politicians by assuming the exaggerated character of a right-wing pundit in the tradition of political satire, he revels in convolutions of the truth and the fake, finding the humor in between. Truthiness, “the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true rather than facts” may have been a necessary condition precedent to the era in which facts may be “alternative.” An era of “truthiness” and “reality apathy” has laid the ground for the erosion of truth and a golden age of misinformation, disinformation and fake news.

French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy bemoaned the devaluing of the value of truth. In The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World (2019) Lévy considers the landscape of the internet and its impact on truth. Lévy writes “What for so long had been known as ‘the truth’, is really a shifting shadow.” Key to the state of truth is the state of trust. The implications of this can be found in the words of Frederick Douglass who in 1869 said “Mankind are not held together by lies. Trust is the foundation of society. Where there is no truth, there can be no trust, and where there is no trust, there can be no society” (Douglass, 1869).

The rise of distrust in the published word and image has resulted in a crisis of trust as much as truth. Trust has become an increasingly studied phenomenon with some going so far as to suggest an area of scholarship in “trust studies” which has been linked to media studies (Bakir & Barlow, 2007). This crisis of trust in the press and mediated information is at the heart of this volume.

A Matter of Perspective: History and Definition

There are many variations on a theme of “fake news.” The term is not new nor is it clearly defined. “Fake news”—whether you accept our definition or ←2 | 3→another—goes back 2,500 years, some scholars say, according to Korinne Bressler in her Nexis post entitled “The Evolution of Fake News.” Some date fake news to Roman times when Antony met Cleopatra and Octavian sought to ruin Antony’s reputation employing the medium of coins. Bressler argues it is actually the invention of the Gutenberg Press that facilitated the wide distribution of fake news to which fake news dates (Bressler, 2017). Printers in the 16th and 17th centuries presented “accounts of monstrous beasts or unusual occurrences” while proclaiming they were just a means of distribution rather than responsible for content (Standage, 2017). Others trace fake news to the end of the 19th century. In 1835 New York newspaper The Sun published “The Great Moon Hoax” chronicling the discovery of life on the moon, “complete with illustrations of humanoid bat-creatures and bearded blue unicorns” (Posetti & Matthews, 2018). The early 20th century was filled with propaganda wars (e.g. the Boer War, World War I, The Russian Revolution, World War II, The Cold War, and The Vietnam War). In the “Fake News, Wars”, disinformation and propaganda saturate social media.

But the term “fake news” rose to prominence in academic and journalistic circles with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Scholars were quick to note the analytical deficiencies of this term, which encompasses a wide range of low-quality and potentially harmful news-like content (Wardle, 2017). As the term has flooded in the public consciousness, definitions proliferate. With so many conceptualizations of fake news, isolating the nature of the allegation can be useful.

Is corroborated leaked information that is only reported by one media outlet fake news?

Is information from a source you do not agree with fake news? Is a surprising story which is a hoax but disseminated via social media without any malicious intent, fake news? Is satire fake news? What we find the basis for the “fake” label is the focus of this volume. The scope of “fake news” is greater than simply false news stories.

The meaning of fake news hinges on who uses the label. When Donald Trump and his supporters call something “fake news,” they are saying it is not legitimate news for any number of reasons, from political bias to unfavorable coverage. Donald Trump and his allies use it as a political tool to discredit not just the news in question, but of its source. In the United States, conservative commentators often invoke the charge of a liberal media to bolster the validity of the fake news label. However, scholarship in the matter contradicts such allegations. The media is not inherently liberal but our perception of it is shaped by our own partisan and ideological positions (Lee, 2005). While political operatives use “fake news” as a weapon, researchers call something ←3 | 4→“fake news” when they are saying it is news that is not based on an objective observation, fact, or scientific consensus.

In an exploration of the topic, Evan Annett of the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail offered a useful approach to defining fake news. To Annett fake news is:

Disinformation for profit: Craig Silverman, the news media editor at BuzzFeed has focused on the economic motive of fake news providing “examples of for-profit hoax sites, based in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, who engineered U.S. election coverage that would be widely shared on Facebook so they could reap digital advertising revenue” (Annett, 2017).

Disinformation for political gain: Annett argues that “Rulers from Julius Caesar to Joseph Stalin have used biased state media to charm their allies and confuse their enemies. Until recently, we’d just call that propaganda, but in the current context, ‘fake news’ often means something more specific: state-funded fraudulent websites set up by one country to sow confusion in another. Russians call it dezinformatsiya or disinformation.”

Disinformation for crime: Hackers can sometimes gain access to the websites or social media accounts of reputable news outlets and disseminate fake stories (Annett, 2017).

Viral pranks: Individuals or group can spread hoaxes for fun or without malevolent intent (Annett, 2017).

On the other hand, Annett asserted fake news is not: satire, honest reporting mistakes, critical reporting to determine if something is a hoax or not, and most significantly, journalism you don’t like (Annett, 2017). Others suggest satirical fake news may function as social commentary but taken out of context may be mistaken for serious reporting thus suggesting this should be included in false information with significant impact (Barclay, 2018).


VIII, 246
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VIII, 246 pp., 19 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Russell Chun (Volume editor) Susan J. Drucker (Volume editor)

Russell Chun is Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, Hofstra University. He holds a M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University. Susan J. Drucker is the Lawrence Stessin Distinguished Professor of Journalism and coordinator of the media studies program in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, Hofstra University. She holds a M.A. from CUNY Queens College and a J.D. from St. Johns University.


Title: Fake News