Fake and More Categories of Bad News

There is the ideal and reality of high quality news and journalism, and then there are many categories of news that undermine the quality of information available in print or online. Much has been said lately about ‘fake news’ – a popular but increasingly broad – overly broad – concept. But ‘fake news’ fails to capture the many variants of low quality, weak or dysfunctional news offered to the public. [Also see piece by David Mikkelson.] While not necessarily comprehensive, consider the following categories, which I will try to differentiate, and invite others to refine and build on:

Fake News: purposively fabricated stories designed to generate clicks and advertising revenue

Inaccurate News: news that has factual inaccuracies in reporting

Uncovered News: stories that are unreported, not covered, often for unintentional but systematic reasons, such as murders that are so frequent that they are not considered news

Suppressed News: unlike uncovered news, there is news that is purposively not reported, such as when an institution fails to report security problems, fraud, or offenses that might harm its reputation  th

Rumors, Gossip: hearsay or gossip that at one point would not have been reported, but which the Internet and social media has brought to the public

Patriotic News: news that is exaggerated or influenced by patriotic feelings in the midst of threats, such as during war or after a terrorist incident [I attribute this category to Avshalom Ginosar]

Propaganda: most often state sponsored falsification, advertising, or selection of good news designed to build support for a particular state, political actor, or political cause

Partisan News: selective reporting or biased news that is designed purposively or unconsciously to support a party or political movement in opposition to other parties or movements

Surrogate News: journalists reporting on or covering other journalists rather than actors in the news

Misinformation: stories that purposively veer from the facts or actual events in order to achieve some objective, but distinct from fake news in that it is not focused on generating revenue

Otherizing News: treatments of news that turns another person, group or nation into an ‘alien other’ – he’s a New Yorker, that is a red state, etc – in ways similar to stereotyping*

Wars on Information: efforts to cloud or confuse the treatment of real or high quality news with contradictory reports and denials, such as around Russian involvement in Eastern Ukraine

Newspeak: Orwell’s use of this term in 1984 to refer to the use of words that mean the opposite of their normal definition, such as truth meaning propaganda, as in the Department of Truth

Personalized News: news designed for a particular individual rather than a broad public – a possible future of news, for better or worse

Excluded Middle: weakness of many cable news shows in creating a debate between extremes and excluding the expression or even the existence of a middle position*

 

What am I forgetting? Other categories? I’m sure we could go on, but please let’s stop calling every story we don’t like ‘fake news’.

*Added with thanks to peteybee for comments below.

 

The Study of Power Shifts Tied to Communication and Information Technologies

I finally completed an abstract for my talk at the forthcoming conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). It will be the 66th Annual Conference, this one to be held in Fukuoka, Japan, from 9-13 June 2016. The conference theme is ‘Communicating with Power’, so I chose to speak about my career long interest in the study of power shifts, most recently tied to my concept of  the Fifth Estate.  I was fascinated by the community power literature as a graduate student in political science, and began research on power shifts tied to computing and telecommunications in 1974 as a co-principal on a study of urban information systems. But over time, and across technologies, I’ve continued my focus on what Anthony Downs once argued to be the ‘real payoffs’ of information technology. My title and abstract for the ICA meeting are:

Communication Power Shifts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate

William H. Dutton

“Innovations in communication and information technology have generated controversies over their political implications. From the printing press to the Internet, debate has revolved around Utopian versus dystopian – democratic versus autocratic biases, technologically deterministic versus socially shaped power shifts, and normative forecasts versus patterns that are inductively anchored in empirical research. This talk tracks the most prominent expectations tied to communication and technology, concluding with a focus on the rise of the Internet, and the communicative power it has provided to an emerging Fifth Estate, composed of networked individuals able to use the Internet strategically to hold institutions, and other estates and of the Internet realm more accountable.”

References

My first major publication on power shifts is my book with Jim Danziger, Rob Kling, and Ken Kraemer, entitled Computers and Politics (Columbia University Press, 1982).

Computers and Politics (1982)
Computers and Politics (1982)

Most of my work on the Fifth Estate is listed on http://quello.msu.edu/research/the-fifth-estate/