Fake News Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

And now for some pedantry. Today I read two articles that both made the same definitional error.

First: In his new (and by all accounts, important) book Breaking News, Ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger writes:

The germ of the idea had come from the Iraq war and the press’s role in aiding and abetting a conflict based on what now we would call fake news.

Second: In a powerful memoir of his time surviving and fighting in the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war, Stanisław Aronson writes:

The city was full of refugees, and rumours were swirling about mass deportations to gulags in Siberia and Kazakhstan. To calm the situation, a Soviet official gave a speech declaring that the rumours were false – nowadays they would be called “fake news” – and that anyone spreading them would be arrested. Two days later, the deportations to the gulags began, with thousands sent to their deaths.

Both writers take the term ‘fake news’ to mean ‘government misinformation’ but that is most certainly not what the term means. ‘Fake news’ is a very particular type of falsehood—that perpetrated by the media.

We don’t need a neologism for government misinformation. We already have a perfectly good word for that: Lying.

2 Replies to “Fake News Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means”

  1. I have a minor quibble: I would say that the first is still – just – fake news.

    The question is whether the media were complicit in the dissemination of what the journalist knew to be false at the time. Did they do enough digging to verify or conversely undermine the government line.

    It’s quite possible that there was no way to verify independently the govt line. It’s relying on intelligence reports etc and it’s not possible to go back to source. In which case, not fake news and your point stands

    The second is indeed just pure lying. No media involvement, ergo no “news” element.

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