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fake news

Fake news is an inaccurate, sometimes sensationalistic report that is created to gain attention, mislead, deceive or damage a reputation. Unlike misinformation, which is inaccurate because a reporter has confused facts, fake news is created with the intent to manipulate someone or something. Fake news can spread quickly when it provides disinformation that is aligned with the audience's point of view because such content is not likely to be questioned or discounted.

In recent years, the internet has provided a low-cost distribution channel for fake news. Posting fake news in discussion forums, website comment fields, blogs and social media websites requires little, if any, technical know-how. Social media websites in particular have proved to be an easy venue for distributing fake news. Bogus stories can be tweeted or posted from a mobile smartphone and quickly distributed to a large audience through retweets and sharing.

Although some creators and distributors of fake news have political or social agendas, others are more entrepreneurial, using fake news that appeals to recipients on an emotional level to make money from digital advertising placed around the content. When fake news is used to spread propaganda, it can be dangerous. In addition to shaping public opinion and behavior, it can also cause mistrust, encourage dissent and deflect attention from real news.

In response to criticism about failing to curb the distribution of fake news during the 2016 presidential election in the United States, Facebook and Google have taken steps to crack down on disinformation. They have formed a coalition called First Draft and are working with major media outlets to educate Internet users about how to spot fake news. They are also working with third parties to create independent fact-checking websites and are exploring ways to identify and label news stories that can not be verified, much like the way Wikipedia editors label entries they feel should be questioned.

On the internet, news that is created with the intent to deceive often has poor grammar and misspelled words; it may use racial language or have an excessive number of capital letters and exclamation points. To verify the accuracy of a news story, it can be useful to query a search engine in order to confirm that legitimate, traditional news sources are also covering the story; fake news stories often have only one source. Another strategy for identifying fake news is to check the host site's domain name and URL. Often, fake news will appear to have a legitimate-sounding domain name, but will have a URL that ends in .com.co or another unusual suffix. 

This was last updated in February 2017

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