What is fake news? This question is currently on the lips of millions of people around the world, not to mention every media organisation and newsroom on the planet. Investigating fake news and its causes will occupy thousands of people over the coming months.
And the problem is certainly not going to go away anytime soon. Just this week, Donald Trump stated that allegations regarding his team’s connections to Russia are ‘fake news’. Meanwhile, free media monitoring tools like Google News are addressing the issue. Google joined forces with First Draft News for the collaborative journalism project CrossCheck, launched earlier this month to focus on the French election.
At Signal, we believe that AI-powered media monitoring has a big part to play in solving the fake news problem. But first, we wanted to analyse exactly how the fake news epidemic has developed over the last 12 months. We ran a search for all articles mentioning ‘fake news’ in the headline between Feb 1st 2016 and Jan 31st 2017. In total, we interrogated more than 27,000 articles.
The results were startling.
Lots of people might think of 2016 as a year dominated by fake news. Oxford Dictionaries even named ‘post-truth’ as their word of the year, indicating the importance of misinformation to global events. (Interestingly, our analysis shows that headline mentions of ‘post-truth’ over 12 months only totalled 2,937. This indicates just how much more important fake news has become as a media story in itself.)
Our investigation has revealed that before November 2016, the international media had barely referred to ‘fake news’ at all. The fake news phenomenon might feel like it’s been around for a long time, but in reality it’s a relative newcomer to the media landscape.
Fake news: a timeline
During the first three-quarters of 2016, fake news was barely mentioned at all. Despite widespread uncertainty around the EU referendum in the spring and summer, the term ‘fake news’ never played a substantial role in the debate. (Interestingly, retrospective Brexit conflict has adopted the ‘fake news’ banner, as this Scotsman article from January demonstrates.)
Even the US presidential election campaign itself wasn’t the trigger for fake news to begin its domination of the headlines. That came with the revelation that Facebook’s news algorithm had failed to rein in fake news stories in mid-November. This was reported by many news outlets around the world, and was presented as one of the factors behind Donald Trump’s shock election victory.
This triggered a wave of coverage in the second half of the month. In the first two weeks of November 2016, there were 888 articles mentioning fake news in the headline; in the second two weeks, this figure ballooned to 6,553.
The trend shows little sign of abating with January figures for mentions still sky-high at 7,826. With the term beginning to morph in terms of its meaning – it arguably now represents any news that disagrees with the reader’s opinion – the world is going to be hearing a lot more about fake news.
Our research into ‘fake news’ headlines tells us that issues at the forefront of the news agenda can begin to seem like they’ve been around forever. This is not always the case, though, as we’ve learned.
Organisations looking to tackle fake news should be aware of how important stories like this break and develop over weeks and months. Unlike many free media monitoring tools, Signal has the capacity to interrogate thousands of articles over long periods of time. Our technology gives businesses the power to make smarter strategic decisions. Click here to book a demo today.