Categorizing websites is inherently difficult. For example, the same article can be determined to be either satirical or fake news, dependent on the reader and their interpretation. Humour, after all, is subjective, and if we don’t find satire funny nor do we see an obvious parody, isn’t it just fake news?
Similarly, websites that put a hyper-partisan spin on certain stories may be obviously biased to one reader but another may perceive the article as not biased.
The mess is exacerbated in the Trump-era, where even mainstream media outlets are collectively denounced as “fake news” by the President of the United States himself.
This is why objectivity is important when analysing a website, and as such lines can be drawn. Is an article designed to parody and be humorous (satire) or is a story designed to trick or deceive a reader under the justification of satire (fake news, or fauxtire).
Does a story deliberately use emotive wording to enrage a reader as well as approach a story from a slanted perspective (biased) or does a story just make up the facts (fake news)?
We answer the questions as best we can, and as such have come up with the following classifications.
Real news means the site has been categorised as not fake. However, just like a man on trial may be determined to be “not guilty” as opposed to “innocent”, this does not necessarily mean we determine a real news site to be respectable or free from bias.
Real news sites will include the mainstream media, which can and often do have a political skew. For example, CNN is politically left and FOX is politically right. Making that determination between real news and biased news is one of the most difficult determinations to make when categorising websites, and one that will never satisfy everyone.
However, for the sake of categorizing a website, real news sites will deal with stories that are legitimate and such sites are unlikely to simply make up the facts, which we would see with either fake news or satire. However this does not preclude real news sites from adding a degree of spin on either their headlines or content, but not to the extent that the story becomes unrecognisable, in which case the site would be categorised as biased.
A biased classification means that the site presents its articles with such a biased perspective that the article becomes almost unrecognisable from the actual story is describes or reports on. This will usually include over-using emotive words, using mostly opinion or speculation supporting a particular side, over-exaggerating elements of a story or deliberately misleading viewers with the headline or content.
Biased websites will employ these techniques to such an extent that its content cannot be deemed fair or accurate. Often a biased website will continually publish articles with the same bias or skew – for example in favour of only the political left or right.
Such sites can also be described as hyper-partisan.
Fake news covers websites that will primarily publish stories with little or no truth to them. This can include reporting on events or incidents that simply did not occur, falsely attributing quotes or the creation of fake news under the guise of satire or entertainment where it is fair to describe the author’s emphasis on tricking or deceiving the reader rather than entertaining them (fauxtire.)
Fake news websites may publish their own content, or may simply copy articles from other fake news websites. It can also cover sites that copy news from other sites without checking their legitimacy and as a consequence end up publishing mostly fake articles.
Satirical content is content designed to be humorous, often using the tools of caricature and parody. The intent of the author is to entertain, rather than fool the reader into what they are reading is genuine. However Poe’s Law suggests that not everyone is immune to satire or parody, meaning in some cases satirical content is mistaken for genuine, despite the author’s intention.
Often websites will publish a mixture of any of the above categories. This can happen for a number of reasons. For example, a fake news author is attempting to disguise their fake articles by presenting them alongside genuine articles. The site could be aggregating stories from other sites without checking for their legitimacy or the site may simply wish to include both but fails to separate one from another effectively.
Often such sites will simply pick or publish stories that are likely to generate the most traffic, regardless of their accuracy. As such this can mean the site is clickbait.