Do we really know what ‘fake news’ is?

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The role of journalism in a post-truth age
WATCH: Global National's Dawna Friesen explores the challenges of accountable reporting in this "post-truth" age and how journalists navigate through fact and fiction – Jan 11, 2017

At a news conference Wednesday, president-elect Donald Trump refused to answer a question from a reporter saying he was “fake news.”

The reporter, Jim Acosta, is a correspondent for CNN — a reputable news organization, specifically the organization that first published a story about a report that Russian operatives had compromising information on Trump.

READ MORE: CNN at war with Trump over report and fallout over dossier

The report is unsubstantiated – but it exists. So why does it get called fake news?

In comparison, Global News has a weekly column called “Fake news this week.” It lists stories that come from websites that pretend to be legitimate. For example: a Twitter account that looked like the official BBC account tweeted that Queen Elizabeth II died last month.

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These articles seem to be pulled out of thin air. Is that fake news? (We seem to think so.)

READ MORE: Fake news: A real-life Cruella de Vil didn’t skin dozens of Texas cats

“Fake news means different things to different people,” George Washington University professor Nikki Usher told the Washington Post. “Is it satire? Comedy news? Partisan conspiracy? Partisan journalism? Big mistakes reliable news institutions have made, or hoaxes they fell for?”

Tim Currie, Director of the school of journalism at Kings College in Halifax, says that he would classify fake news as something with the intent to deceive.

“It’s an article with few verifiable facts, created to deceive the public, often with the intention of making money or influencing public opinion,” he told Global News.

“I think it’s an important point to make that fake news isn’t sloppy journalism.

“It’s so far from what would be standard journalist practice,  a typical fake news story has no links to source material, in fact typically doesn’t refer to verifiable facts. “

He says it’s problematic when you expand the label of fake news to involve click-bait stories based on truth or certain types of political commentary.

WATCH: Accountability role of news organizations important as fake news increases

Click to play video: 'Accountability role of news organizations important as fake news increases'
Accountability role of news organizations important as fake news increases

In all of this, where does satirical news fit in?

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Websites like The Onion and The Beaverton often make up news, to prove a point, usually in a comedic way – but they don’t pretend the so-called news they publish is real, in fact, they explicitly state the opposite.

The Onion calls itself a “farcical newspaper,” while the Beaverton describes it’s genre as “comedy, satire.”

“Satire is sometimes playful, sometimes serious, but even the satire sites are upfront about what they do,” Currie said.

“Fake news has much more of an agenda to, you know, make money or to deceive. Satire is not self-interested in that way.”

Next steps in fighting fake news

Washington Post reporter Margaret Sullivan asserts that it’s time to retire the term – even though it’s only just come into common use.

She’d rather we “call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name.”

In California, one politician wants to take a pro-active approach to this issue. Assembly member Jimmy Gomez has introduced a bill to educate young people on how to spot misinformation.

READ MORE: Fighting fake news: California lawmaker introduces bill to educate youth on false reports

“Recently, we have seen the corrupting effects of a deliberate propaganda campaign driven by fake news,” Gomez wrote in a statement. “When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what’s real. These attempts to mislead readers pose a direct threat to our democracy.”

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Currie says it’s hard to fight “trolls” who propagate fake news but offers a way to combat its effects.

“[Journalists] can report on fake news, it’s a phenomenon that we can do stories on,” he explained.

“When we bring it to the public’s attention we get people concerned about it enough that the technology giants can take measures.”

READ MORE: Syrian migrant sues after fake news calls him a terrorist on Facebook

He also says that journalists can take on a more active role in social media, and point out when news is fake and when it’s not.

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