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The Four Main Types of Fake News

Suzy Woltmann Suzy Woltmann
15th July 2020
The Four Main Types of Fake News
Fake news can be classified into four main categories (Getty Images)

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

Fake news has been around since humankind could write. In 1798, U.S. President John Adams annotated his copy of Marquis de Condorcet’s Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind with a scathing attack on recent fake news:

“There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in a hundred years before 1798.” 

Nearly three hundred years prior, during Great Britain’s Jacobite rebellion, Attorney General Dudley Ryder wrote:

“As the publication of such false news of his Majesty has a tendency to disquiet the minds of his subjects, hurt public credit, and diminish the regard and duty which they owe him, I think the doing it with such views is an offence punishable at Common Law, and for which an Indictment or Information can lye [sic]. And the frequency of such publications is evidence of such wicked designs. But as every false report of this kind which may arise from mistake only cannot be charged as a crime, so it is very difficult to say how often it must be repeated in the paper to make it criminal… I don’t know any method to prevent this practice but by prosecuting the offenders when they are guilty.”

At the time, printers who were members of the rebellion had been reporting that King George II was gravely ill. The fake news was part of an attempt to undermine the King’s rule.

And over a millennium before that, Octavian, Julius Caesar’s adopted son, had propaganda messages attacking Marc Anthony inscribed on coins.

As long as there has been news, some of it has been fake.  But what are the main types of fake news? Misbar revised scholarship by Digital Journalism to produce a typology of fake news based on an extensive review of news and academic articles. These are:

1. Satire/Parody: Satire relies on humor, hyperbole, and exaggeration to ridicule others’ shortcomings. An example of satirical news is The Onion, which publishes humorous articles taking current events to the extreme.

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The article pictured satirizes President Trump’s dismissal of Dr. Fauci’s coronavirus guidelines. While similar to satire, parody plays on a single topic, whether that is an author, style, or subject, through ironic imitation. An example is a Trump parody account.

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2. Fabrication: Fabrication is what you think of when you think of fake news. It has the appearance of being legitimate, but has no basis in fact. Fabrication has increased in recent history through widespread internet use, post-truth politics, and clickbait.

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Clickbait like seen above usually takes the form of outlandish, sensationalist claims that bait people into clicking on a web link for the purpose of ad revenue. 

3. Manipulation: Manipulated news generally includes altered images and video. For example, an image depicting a rare black lion went viral.

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However, it was manipulated from the original photo, which shows a normative tawny lion.

4. Propaganda: Propaganda seeks to impact people's attitudes towards a political cause. Its primary goal is to influence an audience. An example of both manipulation and propaganda was tweeted by GOP Congressman Paul Gosar, who accompanied an image of President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with a caption reading, “The world is a better place without these guys in power.” 

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However, the image was doctored. President Obama was actually photographed shaking hands with then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Whether fake news is satire/parody, fabrication, manipulation, or parody, it is a form of misinformation that – if left unchecked – can spread like wildfire. Knowing its typology should help you be able to recognize fake news when you see it.