When you hear the term "fake news," do you think of Russian interference with our election, Buzzfeed, Fox, CNN or Breitbart News? This depends on who you’ve been listening to.
Simply put, there is no widely accepted definition of fake news.
It seems that no one can agree on what the term means, but this hasn’t stopped everyone, even our president, from using it to brush off information.
It’s a label being attached to false information in social media, political bias in news, or simply news that someone might disagree with. This is an extremely dangerous trend for information.
Yes, these things need to be addressed in varying degrees. But the danger of the term "fake news" is its widespread erosion of credibility.
The term "fake news" is becoming so devoid of informational value yet so negative in connotation that it can soon (and perhaps currently) be used to censor information in order to control news and public opinion.
One of the last times the United States dealt with this type of uncontrolled negative labeling was during the second Red Scare.
Between 1947-1957, McCarthyism (literally defined as: "the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence") took over. Suddenly citizens were hauled in front of judges to question their communistic beliefs or sympathies.
Citizens who were labeled or deemed communists or sympathizers often were isolated by their friends and family in order to avoid the label coloring them. This was especially apparent in business, and even more apparent in the film industry (think the movie "Trumbo").
We could see a Third Red Scare with the widespread use of labeling things as "fake news."
There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on with the media and media-haters battling over who is truthful or not. The most recent examples involve CNN and Breitbart News.
In Donald Trump’s first press conference last week, he refused to answer a question from CNN News: "Your organization is terrible," he said. "No, I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news."
In relation to that exchange, Breitbart News Network used the headline, "Fake news outlet CNN’s top executive, Jeff Zucker, is threatening the incoming president of the United States Donald J. Trump," on Jan. 19.
While CNN may host opinionated political pundits, to say that CNN is "fake," is a dangerous mischaracterization that lumps it together with objectively false sources.
Where does this leave us?
We are without a working definition of "fake news" and having to sort through an onslaught of news and finger-pointing, we don’t know that we can believe.