There are levels of the phrase “fake news.”

One usage has been politicized.

When people use the phrase “fake news” what is often implied is that the content in question can be dismissed as ideologically motivated, or mission driven. Essentially the content isn’t aiming for some kind of “objective voice,” but is intended to be activist in nature.

This usage doesn’t imply a manipulation of facts, but the creation of a narrative. Many organizations that can justifiably receive this critique wouldn’t even object to it. They don’t see a lack of objectivity as a weakness. They want to effect change in the world. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature for some publishers.

In this sense the phrase “fake news” is not a new critique, but rather a new buzzword to capture a critique as old as political debate itself akin to “your bias is showing.” It is not an achilles heel of journalism.

But part of why the phrase “fake news” is more effective is because of its ambiguity with another understanding, that does muddy the water. So much so, that we can’t even have a conversation about whether the narrative in a story is justified or not — because we can’t determine if the underlying facts can be agreed upon.

To many “fake news” are deliberate falsehoods that use viral techniques to spread. The presence of this more foundational (and malicious) sense of ‘fake news’ makes discussion about the ‘narrative’ critique moot. How can you agree to one narrative over another if you can’t agree on the facts. The entire appeal of subscribing to the notion that narratives don’t have to be ‘objective’ in outlook implies at least that we have to agree on basic facts to know which narratives carry weight.

Tech platforms have enabled the proliferation of bots specifically used to spread misinformation. This misinformation spreads and as a result the publishing industry finds itself fighting a war on two fronts.

Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group. Twitter: @digidave or Do what I can to help. Also, I love you.

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