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Fact Check: How to decipher online news and information: What is Fake News?

Post-Truth Era

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as Word of the Year. Oxford defines “post-truth” as “an adjective defined as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.'” The Post-Truth Era is a social phenomenon that appeals to people’s emotions rather than their logic, making them more likely to ignore concrete evidence and facts in favor of what they believe ought to be true based on personal beliefs.  

This is the crux of what is more commonly known as the fake news phenomenon. While this is not a new concept, the term has seen increasing usage in the political sphere since 2016. In the age of social media and social messaging apps, information is plentiful and easily accessible, which means the proliferation of inaccurate or biased information is far more likely. 

Information disorder

Over the past few years, new terms have evolved that better describe the types of information being spread through various social media and news outlets. The term “fake news” has assumed a political cloak. It is now being used to antagonize, incite emotions, and prove a point without facts. Simply stating “fake news!” should not be the justification for a position. The problem also expands outside of news. Information is being manipulated and spread, sometimes benignly, sometimes maliciously. This information is being disseminated across all platforms, not just through news and media outlets but also social media and personal blogs. The meaning of “fake news” has gotten lost in this climate. The Council of Europe, in a 2017 report, categorized erroneous news as follows:


False information shared by people or organizations who believe the information is true. The false information was not created to harm any person or organization deliberately. This information creates a false connection and has misleading content.


False information knowingly shared to cause harm. This information is both false and dishonest. It uses false context, and fabricated, imposter, manipulated, and misleading content.


Genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere. This information is dishonest. The information itself is true, but it is used in a way to harm. It includes leaks, harassment, and hate speech.

These terms expand the definitions and meanings of information and how it is created, disseminated, and used in today’s society.


Wardle, C., & Derakhshan, H. (2017). Information disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making. Council of Europe, 27.

Why is this important to you?

It is a threat

In the Information Age you deserve accurate and comprehensive information.  Encountering lies and biased information by deceptive means is frustrating, not to mention time consuming.  Everyone deserves the truth.

It is dangerous

Individuals can act in harmful ways after reading fake news.  A recent example is the QAnon Conspiracy, whose proponents believe, among other things, that former President Trump was waging a secret war against malicious government figures. This conspiracy has led to online and offline threats; in one notable example, a man was arrested on charges of terrorism.  The spreading of lies and deceit creates hostility.

It can damage your reputation

Sharing fake news or using it to support an argument can diminish your standing and credibility among your peers and colleagues. 

It creates distrust in all news

Accusations made against credible news organizations cause mistrust in those organizations.  These accusations can lead to a general mistrust of all media sources, including quality media outlets with high journalistic standards.


Throughout this guide there are links to outside sources that are being used as examples of fake, biased, satirical, and  misleading news sites. These internet links are provided to you as a courtesy. Walden University, LLC. Walden does not own or operate and is in no way responsible for the content of the web sites to which you will be directed upon accessing the links. Walden makes no representations or warranties as to the sites’ content, does not attest to the accuracy or propriety of any information located there and does not endorse the sites or information on the sites in any way.