Fake news. Once, it used to be fun and easy to recognise. Now, thanks to you-know-who (and we're not talking about Hilary Clinton and her alien baby), fake news is much more common, insidious and sinister. But what is fake news? How do you spot it? And how, as a journalist, do you avoid using it in your stories?
What is fake news?
For all sides of politics, it's fair to say the original definition of fake news was simply news that you disagreed with.
The problem here is that facts are not a belief system. The sky really is blue. Temperatures across the world have been increasing for years. What has caused this increase in temperatures is open to debate, but the fact temperatures are rising is based on science and not Chinese conspiracy.
All the words in this tweet make sense, just not in the order they are written in.
Because of the role it played in the 2016 US Presidential Election, our understanding of fake news is now more sophisticated and covers everything from satire to propaganda.
Fake news: It's complicated.
Why fake news?
Much fake news is created to generate advertising revenue from stories that go viral on Facebook and Twitter.
A great deal of fake news is also generated as a form of political communication designed to generate an emotional reaction in people, in the hope that will influence their political beliefs. A more sinister view is that much fake news is produced by various "enemies" of the West with the aim of destabilising democracy.
Interestingly, one of the first university studies into the role of fake news in the 2016 US Presidential Election, questions its impact.
How to spot fake news
The future of fake news
Fake news is here to stay, and this has important implications for journalists. Obviously, we need to avoid being conned by fake news in our professional practice -- it's not very good for the CV.
However, an emerging and increasingly important role for news organisations is that of "fact-checking". The ABC, The Conversation and The Guardian, among other news organisations, all have fact checking units. The online world has given birth to the fake news phenomenon, but it is also the most important tool for combating it. As journalists, we need to be able to sift through and analyse the enormous amount of information that exists in order to ensure our audiences are getting facts, not fiction. Identifying and calling out fake news is central to earning the public's trust.