Don’t Be Fooled By The Term ‘Fake News’ [Opinion]

Paul Kitagaki Jr.Getty Images

It was a normal working day in 2016 when Buzzfeed’s media editor noticed something strange happening on social media. A group of websites, all originating from the same town, were pumping made-up news stories into American social media, primarily Facebook. He began investigating, and found more than 140 websites all originating from the same area, all with the same agenda: lie, lie, lie.

It was the start of fake news. And back then, no one knew just how far it would all go — or that the phrase “fake news” was about to become Donald Trump’s favorite political weapon.

Since then, Donald Trump has claimed — loudly, and often — that he, in fact, coined the term “fake news.” This is not true. It was actually his then-opponent, Hillary Clinton, who used the term in a December 2016 speech, according to the BBC.

“It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences,” she said. “This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk… lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities.”

The next month, “fake news” became Donald Trump’s favorite phrase. He said “you’re fake news” to CNN reporter Jim Acosta, a journalist he would have another run-in with in late 2018, and began using the phrase as loudly and as often as he could.

“Fake news” is now loosely and largely applied to any news story, cable news channel, journalist, or publication that Donald Trump personally does not like — such as CNN and their White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

The phrase was originally used to describe a group of websites whose sole aim was to churn out completely made-up stories with attention-getting headlines. But the phrase has turned into a monster that can be applied to any piece of information that someone doesn’t like, whether you’re Donald Trump or Jane Q. Public.

If there’s something which you don’t want to hear or don’t like, you can just scream “fake news” until you turn blue in the face… the way Donald Trump does. But information which you don’t want to hear isn’t fake news just because you don’t like it — and yes, at this point, we are addressing the president directly. He has turned this term into a weapon to be shouted at CNN, the New York Times, NBC, CBS, and basically any media organization that is not Fox News.

Fake news is a website or organization that churns out completely made up information disguised as a news story, with the sole aim to mislead and fool the American public. And it’s easy to say that Fox News is fake news because they present the right-leaning slant of every story, or that MSNBC is fake news because they’re on the left. But — love them or hate them — the stories that these outlets present are based in fact, and do contain real information.

Fake news stories do not. Fake news stories are entirely fabricated, and they are intentionally written with no basis in fact. The phrase was invented in 2016, but fake news itself has been around for a long, long time. Before 2016, fake news was simply called “lies,” because that’s exactly what they are.

And things would be a lot better now if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had simply called those false stories lies instead of fake news. Clinton unwittingly gave Trump a tool that he can use on Twitter to rant and rave, accidentally confusing the American public with a term that has turned incendiary. “Fake news” is now an attack phrase, a weapon of mass media destruction.

We have started using it against political opponents, and we have lost sight of who the real enemy is. We have now lost the ability to judge what is real and what is not — and we have forgotten how to take in information and how to weigh it on its own merit.

Because now, if there is something we don’t want to hear, we can all scream “fake news” — just like Donald Trump does.

There is no fake news. There are lies and there is the truth. And we no longer know how to tell the difference between them. That is Donald Trump’s legacy, and he has done us all a great disservice. Because now, we can reject facts whenever we want to, stick our heads in the sand, and pretend that reality is whatever we want it to be. We can ignore dire warnings about global warming, reject FBI reports that tell us Russian hackers messed up our presidential election, and deny the truth of anything we hear.

Because we can just say “fake news.” So here we are, two years later — and that random group of people in a tiny country halfway around the world have won. They managed to confuse, and fool, 330 million Americans who can no longer accept facts.

But don’t worry. If you don’t like any of this, or don’t want to believe it, you can just call all of this fake news, too.