Guido’s Guide to News, Fake & Otherwise

“Fake News” is the politico-media panic of the moment, blamed by Hillary supporters for the triumph of Trump. On social media the charge of “fake news” is levelled against any report the accuser disagrees with. That definition is useless and we need to better categorise political news terms. Below is Guido’s Guide to News…

Disinformation: false information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organisation to a rival power or the media. Example: “Dossier reveals Saddam Hussein’s armoury of chemical weapons is on standby for use within 45 minutes.”

Propaganda / Spin: one sided information. Advertising is a form of propaganda, political communication is invariably propaganda. Example: “24 hours to save the NHS“, “24 hours to save the pound.”

White propaganda: for the most part, truthful with factual elements, although not always the whole truth. Example: The BBC World Service’s Russian TV channel.

Grey propaganda: propaganda that seems like it’s presenting legitimate arguments with no agenda behind them, but often ultimately untrue. Example: “IMF says Brexit uncertainty would trigger UK recession” analysis that turned out to be propaganda based on the worst case scenarios of economists.

Black propaganda: information put out by an opposing government or institution and made to look as though it came from a friendly source. Example: the Zinoviev letter was a front page splash in the Daily Mail 4 days before the 1924 election, British security services faked a letter from Soviet official Grigory Zinoviev which damaged the Labour Party.

Fake news: news that is produced to either generate clicks and advertising revenue or to either enhance or discredit or boost a politician, policy or organisation. Ranging from hoaxes to lies. The originator of “fake news” knowingly produces it with the objective in mind. Example: Russian state-backed Sputnik News.

Alternative facts: untruths. Example: Sean Spicer on Trump’s inauguration crowd size, The Canary’s Portland conspiracy theory.

News with views: news that mixes reporting of facts and events with an underlying slant, often ideological. Example: “Keith Vaz Is Not a Fit and Proper Person.”

Objective news: this is the legally required output of the BBC and broadcasters in the UK. Supposedly balanced with both sides of an argument being presented to the viewer. This obviously raises the question of how you balance truth and falsehood or the political extremes against the mainstream. Example: supporters of monarchal absolutism never get a fair break on the BBC, do they?

Subjective news: what broadcasters and broadsheets actually produce even if they claim to produce objective news. Example: BBC report in 2005 “Himalayan glaciers ‘melting fast’ says study“. A decade later it turned out they meant by 2350 not 2035.

Infotainment: most popular news about pop and soap stars, celebrities falls into this category. Politics is often described as showbiz for ugly people, which leads to infotainment reports. Largely harmless fun for readers. Example: Tory MP Shows His Cock to Kids.

There will be no technological solution to the age old issues of fake news and propaganda. Ed Snowden is right. Readers need to use their critical faculties, which by and large they do. “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”


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