The term "alternative fact" gained media attention on January 22, 2017, when Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, appeared on the NBC television news program Meet the Press. When asked why White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had falsely described the crowd at President Trump's swearing-in ceremony as "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration," Ms. Conway stated that Mr. Spicer's comments were not falsehoods, but "alternative facts."
According to Merriam-Webster, "a fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality."
In response to Ms. Conway, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd maintained that "alternative facts are not facts — they're falsehoods."
See also Newspeak, because the media were quick to characterize Ms. Conway's use of the term "alternative facts" as "Newspeak," a reference to George Orwell's novel 1984, about a totalitarian state that manipulates language to assert control over the public.
Evidence based on theory, opinion, or informal observation rather than systematic research. Whereas empirical evidence is evidence based on facts obtained through scientific observation, investigation, or experimentation.
"A particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned; Unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; Prejudice" (Dictionary.com).
See also confirmation bias
As explained in the TEDEd video How False News Can Spread, circular reporting occurs "when publication A publishes misinformation, publication B reprints it, and publication A then cites B as the source for the information. It's also considered a form of circular reporting when multiple publications report on the same initial piece of false information, which then appears to another author as having been verified by multiple sources."
"Something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest" (Merriam-Webster).
This New Yorker article, "How Headlines Change the Way We Think," explains how the wording of a link can affect our ability to evaluate its content.
"An expression of opinions or offering of explanations about an event or situation" (Oxford Dictionaries).
As consumers of news, it's important that we understand the difference between commentary and reporting. As this article from Colorado State University's Rocky Mountain Times explains, "reporters are expected to seek the truth and report it, usually as it happens or shortly after it happens. They must, therefore, find as many aspects of a story as they can. If there is a conflict (and usually there is) they must fairly represent both sides of that conflict where possible. ... For columnists [i.e. commentators], the news has already been reported and our job is to provide our perspective on it. ... We take sides because that is what we are supposed to do."
See also editorial, op-ed, opinion piece
According to Psychology Today, "confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true."
As explained in the video Defining Confirmation Bias, people have a tendency "to accept information unquestioningly when it reinforces some existing belief or attitude," even when presented with contradicting proof.
You can never get rid of all of your biases, but you can actively seek out other points of view. See Bubbles & Bias: What Can We Do? for some helpful links and videos.
"A theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; A belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group; The idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public" (Dictionary.com).
This Scientific American article summarizes the findings of two University of Miami researchers seeking to understand why people believe in conspiracy theories.
A video that uses an artificial intelligence application to superimpose one person's face onto another person's body, typically for the purpose of celebrity parody or "revenge porn."
On April 17, 2018, BuzzFeed News tweeted a deepfake video of film director Jordan Peele's digitally altered portrayal of President Obama to demonstrate how deceptive this technology can be.
For more information, see Know Your Meme.
"The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills" (American Library Association Digital Literacy Task Force).
Digital literacy is sometimes described as encompassing multiple literacies, including information literacy and media literacy. This Education Week article explains why the term "digital literacy" can be so confusing, and why and how it continues to evolve.
"Disinformation is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. It is an act of deception ... to convince someone of untruth. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false" (Quora).
See filter bubble
"An article in a newspaper or other periodical or on a website presenting the opinion of the publisher, writer, or editor; A statement broadcast on radio or television that presents the opinion of the owner, manager, or the like, of the program, station, or channel" (Dictionary.com).
See also commentary, op-ed, opinion piece
Evidence based on facts obtained through scientific observation, investigation, or experimentation. Whereas anecdotal evidence is evidence based on theory, opinion, or informal observation rather than systematic research.
"A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing" (Oxford Dictionaries).
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, for example, many news organizations began struggling with the use of the term "alt-right," which critics contend is a euphemism for terms such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist.
"Something that has actual existence; An actual occurrence; A piece of information presented as having objective reality; Something that really exists or has occurred" (Merriam-Webster).
News that is "completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue. ... But the definition is often expanded to include websites that circulate distorted, decontextualised or dubious information through – for example – clickbaiting headlines that don’t reflect the facts of the story, or undeclared bias" (The Guardian).
How does fake news spread on the internet? See Wired Magazine's short video on Here's How Fake News Works (and How the Internet Can Stop It).
Online services like Google and Facebook use computer programming algorithms to determine what information to deliver to you. Your “filter bubble” (a term coined by internet activist Eli Pariser) refers to the idea that this automated personalization, though helpful in some ways, can isolate you from other information. Sometimes referred to as an "echo chamber," the filter bubble created by your online activity can limit your exposure to different points of view, and weaken your ability to avoid fake news and bias.
In this now-famous TED Talk, Pariser discusses the effects of algorithms and warns us about the dangers of online filter bubbles.
You can't get rid of your filter bubble entirely, but you can take steps to shrink it. See Bubbles & Bias: What Can We Do? for some helpful links.
In the early 1920s, this and four other images were widely believed to be photographic proof of the existence of fairies. The Cottingley Fairies remained controversial for decades, until the photographer finally confessed it was a hoax.
Glossary (I - R)
"The set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning" (Association of College and Research Libraries).
See also digital literacy, media literacy
"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely." --E. O. Wilson
"A situation in which you receive too much information at one time and cannot think about it in a clear way" (Cambridge Dictionary).
"Faulty scientific research, data, and claims created for financial or political gain" (Dictionary.com).
See also pseudoscience
"Mainstream media outlets are found on television, radio, online and in newspapers and other publications. They include TV networks like ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as national news channels like CNN and Fox News. They also include websites like MSNBC and large newspapers like The New York Times and USA Today. Mainstream media sources are usually easy to find, and they reach large audiences" (Houston Chronicle).
"The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media" (Media Literacy Project).
See also digital literacy, information literacy
"An idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from one person to another in a culture; An amusing or interesting picture, video, etc., that is spread widely through the Internet" (Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary).
"Misinformation is information that is false, but the person who is disseminating it believes that it is true" (Quora).
Misinformation should not be confused with disinformation, which is false information intentionally disseminated for the purpose of deception.
"Deliberately ambiguous and contradictory language used to mislead and manipulate the public" (The Free Dictionary).
"The term 'Newspeak' was coined by George Orwell in his 1949 anti-utopian novel 1984 ... [and] was characterized by the elimination or alteration of certain words, the substitution of one word for another, the interchangeability of parts of speech, and the creation of words for political purposes" (Merriam-Webster).
"A newspaper page [or page on a newspaper's website] devoted to signed articles by commentators, essayists, humorists, etc., of varying viewpoints" (Dictionary.com).
Referred to as "op-ed" because in printed newspapers it is typically placed opposite the editorial page.
See also commentary, opinion piece
"An article in which the writer expresses their personal opinion, typically one which is controversial or provocative, about a particular issue or item of news" (Oxford Dictionaries).
See also commentary, editorial, op-ed
"An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect" (Oxford Dictionaries).
See also satire
"A process by which a scholarly work (such as a paper or a research proposal) is checked by a group of experts in the same field to make sure it meets the necessary standards before it is published or accepted" (Merriam-Webster).
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."
In 2016, post-truth was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.
As explained in the video Primary vs. Secondary Sources, "primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event, and are created during the time that event took place. They can also be created retrospectively, at a later date, by a participant in those events. ... They can also be creative works."
Examples include autobiographies, diaries, letters, interviews, speeches, historical documents, newspaper articles from the time of an event, original data, novels, paintings, and other works of art. The video also explains how primary sources differ from secondary sources, which are "written by scholars or observers after the fact, and interpret or analyze primary sources or events."
Why should you care about primary sources, and what do they have to do with fake news?
Have you ever played "Telephone?" It's the game where one person whispers something in another person's ear, and then that person whispers it to someone else, and so on, and by the time it finally gets to the last person, the message is usually very different from the way it started out.
Information can get distorted as it moves from one person to another. If you've encountered some information that doesn't seem right to you, it can be helpful to try to find the original source - the primary source. For example, when someone tells you about something they heard the President say in a speech, they're probably giving you their own interpretation of what was said. If you search for a transcript or video of the speech (the primary source), you'll know exactly what was said, and then you can form your own interpretation.
"Information, ideas or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution or nation. It is often biased and misleading, in order to promote an ideology or point of view" (Center for News Literacy).
"A system of theories or assertions about the natural world that claim or appear to be scientific but that, in fact, are not. For example, astronomy is a science, but astrology is generally viewed as a pseudoscience" (Dictionary.com).
See also junk science
"A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media" (Merriam-Webster).
"Information or a story that is passed from person to person but has not been proven to be true" (Merriam-Webster). A "rumor mill" is defined as "the source of rumors, especially those that seem to be deliberately passed along" (Dictionary.com).
Glossary (S - Z)
"The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues" (Oxford Dictionaries).
Famous examples of satire include Jonathan Swift's 1729 essay A Modest Proposal, which suggests that the poor might earn extra money by selling their babies to rich people as food. This is, of course, a horrific idea, and Swift wasn’t serious, but his purpose was to shed light on unfair attitudes toward the poor in those days, which was, in fact, very serious.
Modern examples of satire include websites like The Onion, and television programs such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, South Park, and some of the sketches on Saturday Night Live.
Satire typically involves some absurdity, and the intent is to criticize, not to deceive. Nevertheless, many people have been fooled by sites like The Onion.
See also parody
A work (such as a book or magazine article) that summarizes, analyzes, interprets, or comments on one or more primary sources. An example of a secondary source would be a book about a historical event written by a scholar who has researched the event, but was not present at the time and place in which the event occurred.
"The act by newspapers, television, etc. of presenting information in a way that is [meant to] be shocking or exciting" (Cambridge Dictionary).
See also yellow journalism
"To present (news or information) in a way that creates a favorable impression" (Collins Dictionary).
"Material in an online publication which resembles the publication's editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser's product" (Oxford Dictionaries).
See also Native advertising
"To post inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments ... for the purpose of upsetting other users and provoking a response" (Dictionary.com).
According to the fact-checking website known as Snopes, "urban legends are best described as cautionary or moralistic tales passed along by those who believe (or claim) the incidents befell either folks they know personally or acquaintances of friends or family members. ... Though the vast majority of such tales are pure invention, a tiny handful do turn out to be based on real incidents. What moves true tales of this type out of the world of news and into the genre of contemporary lore [are the] ... alterations which take place as the stories are passed through countless hands." Wikipedia further explains that, "despite its name, an urban legend does not necessarily originate in an urban area. Rather, the term is used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore of pre-industrial times."
See these examples of popular urban legends.
See also hoax
"The production of content by the general public rather than by paid professionals and experts in the field. ... As brought out in Andrew Keen's [2007 book] 'The Cult of the Amateur,' when everyday users are allowed to report the news anonymously and are not held accountable for anything they say, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell fact from fiction. Professional journalists and editors, even those with immense fame, can be criticized and even fired for false reporting. However, the contributing user who can write anything is never held responsible. In addition, anyone can post something online, leading to an unprecedented information overload in today's world" (PC Magazine).
"The use of cheaply sensational or unscrupulous methods in newspapers, etc. to attract or influence readers" (Collins Dictionary).
As this Mental Floss article explains, the term originated in the late 19th century, when rival newspaper owners Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst published exaggerated and sometimes fabricated stories to try to boost sales. The color yellow refers to a popular comic strip, "The Yellow Kid," which appeared in Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World.