Fake news is false or misleading information presented as news. It often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue. However, the term does not have a fixed definition, and has been applied more broadly to include any type of false information, including unintentional and unconscious mechanisms, and also by high-profile individuals to apply to any news unfavourable to his/her personal perspectives.
Once common in print, the prevalence of fake news has increased with the rise of social media, especially the Facebook News Feed. Political polarization, post-truth politics, confirmation bias, and social media algorithms have been implicated in the spread of fake news. It is sometimes generated and propagated by hostile foreign actors, particularly during elections. The use of anonymously-hosted fake news websites has made it difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel. In some definitions, fake news includes satirical articles misinterpreted as genuine, and articles that employ sensationalist or clickbait headlines that are not supported in the text.
Fake news can reduce the impact of real news by competing with it; a Buzzfeed analysis found that the top fake news stories about the 2016 U.S. presidential election received more engagement on Facebook than top stories from major media outlets. It also has the potential to undermine trust in serious media coverage. The term has at times been used to cast doubt upon legitimate news, and former U.S. president Donald Trump has been credited with popularizing the term by using it to describe any negative press coverage of himself. It has been increasingly criticized, due in part to Trump's misuse, with the British government deciding to avoid the term, as it is "poorly-defined" and "conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference".
Multiple strategies for fighting fake news are currently being actively researched, and need to be tailored to individual types of fake news. Effective self-regulation and legally-enforced regulation of social media and web search engines are needed. The information space needs to be flooded with accurate news to displace fake news. Individuals need to actively confront false narratives when spotted, as well as take care when sharing information via social media. However, reason, the scientific method and critical thinking skills alone are insufficient to counter the broad scope of bad ideas. Overlooked is the power of confirmation bias, motivated reasoning and other cognitive biases that can seriously distort the many facets of immune mental health. Inoculation theory shows promise in designing techniques to make individuals resistant to the lure of fake news, in the same way that a vaccine protects against infectious diseases.