That’s…. Not Real

Apr 19 / EMILY VAJJALA, PH.D.
Guess what today is? Monday? Yes. But better than Monday, it’s time for a conversation about Fake News!  

It was only a matter of time.  

Fake News has evolved rapidly in the last few years. But it may not be what you think. 


Media framing 

Media framing is the ways in which the media, including news reporting, selects stories and tells stories. From the subjective process of choosing which stories to report on and how to report them, the news is framed in ways that reflect a particular worldview.  

For example, one of my favorite podcasts, Communication Junkie with Steven Fuller, describes the different ways in which news outlets reported on the mass shooting murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. When this happened, in 2015, Fuller found a CNN report on this story. CNN framed the shooting as a white killer, Dylann Roof, killing nine black people as an act of racism. On the other hand, Fuller describes Fox News reporting this story as an atheist, Dylann Roof, killing nine Christians as an act against Christianity. As Fuller explains, both are true, but each media outlet reported the story, or framed the story, based on their liberal or conservative worldview. 
That’s the difference between fake news and biased news. Fake news is flat out incorrect, whereas biased news is real stories, told from an angle. The media has always been biased. And that’s not the same as fake news. 

While we may be frustrated by the explicit bias in news reporting, stories from major news networks cannot be completely made up. There is accountability there. For example, after claims of election fraud following the U.S. presidential election in 2020, Fox News walked back some of their insinuations that Joe Biden may not have been legitimately elected after threat of legal action. Fake news is not reported on major news networks because of that accountability. 

Now that we know that biased news is not fake news, let’s move on. 

Fake News: From Fun to Frightening 

I used to spend hours reading and watching fake news. I admit it! The Onion has been around for decades. The Onion is primarily a news satire website. I would read through Onion articles and watch videos on Youtube and laugh at the outrageousness. The only thing funnier than an Onion News article was when one of your friends believed one of the articles was real. 

Guess who’s not laughing anymore? 

Fake News has gotten intense.  

What I used to think of as goofy articles on the internet has spun into a partisan nightmare. After her election defeat in 2016, Hillary Clinton stated, “it's now clear that so-called 'fake news' can have real world consequences.” And Clinton knows that full well. Afterall, in a fake news smear campaign, she was accused of being part of a pedophile ring smuggling children out of a pizza restaurant. And people believed it! One guy even showed up to the pizzeria with a gun to save the non-existent children. #pizzagate 

A guy showing up to a pizza restaurant with a gun is a very real consequence of fake news. But that’s not all. Elections can be swayed by this nonsense. Entire belief systems can be built and supported by fake news.  

After 2016, fake news evolved again. Suddenly, everything was fake news. Fake news moved from a way to soil reputations to what you shout when you don’t like reality. 

In the United States, these things seem to hinge on presidential elections.  

Cries of fake news, themselves, became fake news. Donald Trump, unable to accept the legitimacy of his democratic defeat, claimed an entire election as fake news. And then, on January 6th, masses of people, misled by Trump and other sources of fake news about the legitimacy of the election, stormed the capitol, causing chaos, loss of life, and a national crisis.  

The nation was shocked by what happened at the capitol. But I wasn’t. And you shouldn’t have been either. We saw #Pizzagate go down. A guy showed up with a gun because of fake news. Of course, January 6th happened the way it did. I’m actually surprised it wasn’t worse. 

Fake News is dangerous. So what do we do about it? 

I will leave you with a few tips about how to handle the fake news epidemic. 
  • As I mentioned above, major news networks tend to report true stories. Get your news from major news platforms instead of from a meme that your friend posted on Facebook. But remember that news networks are biased.  


  • Get your news from a variety of news outlets. This will help you see how media framing works and help build your media literacy. 
  • See something you want to repost on social media? Don’t you even think about hitting that “share” button until you do some quick research on whether or not it is real.




  • Tell your friends and family when they share fake news. They probably won’t like it, but inaction is harmful. Friends don’t let friends believe fake news. 
Media literacy is more important than ever. Be responsible.  

Ready to be a media literacy leader? Don’t forget to enroll at the Communication Leader Academy. Only real news here! 

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