Fake News Content

A convergence of factors in today’s digital society has resulted in a range of challenges involving the origin, dissemination, veracity, and effects of many types of messaging. Contributing to these challenges are the relative ease of self-publishing online, the re-dissemination of messages by both individuals and organizations, the speed at which information is circulated, and the blurring of lines between advertising and editorial content (Conill, 2016).

These factors often compound the difficulty of determining the source, the intent, and the accuracy of information consumed. While the ultimate goal of news coverage may differ for journalists and public relational practitioners, both professions operate under the same ethical principle of telling the truth. However, truth, itself, is now at odds with a cultural shift where people often associate news with the word “fake.”

With truth called into question, the definitions of fake news vary. Legal analysts confine the definition to “online publication of intentionally or knowingly false statements of fact” (Klein & Wueller, 2017, p. 2), while other scholars include political “spin,” propaganda, and native advertising (Tandoc, Lim & Ling, 2018). 

Fullerton, McKinnon and Kendrick (2020) conclude that “fake news” includes content that may be misleading, sensationalized or deliberately false.


Indeed, “fake news” is a very broad term. To develop a typology, Tandoc, Lim, and Ling (2018), reviewed 34 academic articles focusing on “fake news” that includes six categories: news satire, news parody, fabrication, manipulation, advertising, and propaganda.

Often the contributing factor to understanding fake news is the content’s motivation. While it may seem obvious to distinguish credible news from “fake news” stories, it is not. Results from a 2016 Buzzfeed survey found that “fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time” (Tandoc, Lim & Ling, 2018, p. 137). Fake news stories may be more obvious to the audience, such as humorous stories trending on social media.

However, fake news also may be advertising that is strategically crafted to look like editorial content while promoting a more meaningful agenda (Tandoc, Lim & Ling, 2018). Despite the lack of agreement upon  “fake news” definitions and categorization, the phenomenon has critical implications for the functioning of a democratic society, press freedom, professional communicators and individual citizens.

Next Page: Types of Fake News