Is Fake News Fiction?
We used to only have three primary news sources, newspapers, magazines, and television. Now we have endless data sources, analysis, and distribution platforms. A significant amount of raw data now comes from ordinary people posting articles and videos on social media. What happens when one or more sources bend the truth? This trend is called “fake news,” which has become a big problem in our society.
Fake news occurs because somebody wants to spin raw data or invent false data to suit their addenda. In the past, this partially happened when the owners of a news source wanted to alter the truth slightly. For example, they might favor famous person X. Their reporters would write glowing stories about X and exclude adverse facts. However, the stories rarely contained lies because the news corporations feared lawsuits.
Now, anybody can post a lie, and millions absorb this “fact.” The fear of a lawsuit is no longer present (it is still a possibility but mindlessly ignored). Plus, many anonymous sites and methods of hiding one’s identity exist.
I recall the first time I read a fake news story. In 1990, a big part of the internet was UseNet. There, people could post, read or reply to all kinds of information, opinions, or satire. I posted a few times, and here is one funny example:
The UseNet thread I followed the most was about the Amiga computer. I read every post for the latest news, tips, information, and help. While I enjoyed my Amiga experience, not everybody was happy about this impressive computer revolution.
One guy’s mother purchased an Amiga, and he was furious that she was not using a Macintosh. So, he posted all the time about the computer’s failings. Because that UseNet thread had no moderator, he could not be banned.
One day, I read a terrible news post. Commodore (the company that developed the Amiga computer) filed for bankruptcy. The post contained a copy of their press release. What dreadful news! But then users discovered this “news” was untrue and posted angry comments about the guy. I was happy and angry when I learned the bankruptcy notice was fake. How could somebody do such a terrible thing? Side note: Commodore filed for bankruptcy in April 1994.
What is it like to write a fake news article? I thought exploring and comparing the process to writing an entertaining story would be interesting. Let’s pretend I dislike the famous person Sally. Here is a Facebook post to discredit her. “Hey, everybody. Big reveal. I hacked into Sally’s computer and found this email: ‘Today, I was driving to work stoned out of my mind. Completely baked. I almost hit a woman pushing her stroller. It was so fun!’ This email confirms what we all suspected. Sally is a pothead. Please send this important news to all your friends.”
This quick post might become popular, and Sally would have difficulty proving her innocence. However, that is not quite the topic I wanted to explore. Instead, I want to compare the mindset of a fictional author and a fake news poster.
Why do fictional writers create content? They wish to explore their ideas, develop new skills, express themselves, share their story, or make money.
How does an author begin the process? My origin story is probably unusual. I had been daydreaming about stories for years, and in 2016, I wrote them down. Now, my stories have more structure because I use outlines. Yet, many authors jump into their stories without a firm plot or take elements from many places and stitch them together.
The goal of a fiction author is to create something that people enjoy. This process includes keeping the reader in mind as they write. Is this a good character? If I add a plot twist, will it be more exciting? This section is dull. This paragraph is confusing.
Creating fake news requires a different approach because the goal is to damage or overcome a truth. For example, “Sally is a horrible woman.” “X political party is better than Y.” “Z is what happened.”
The process begins with a malcontent (Noun. A person who is chronically discontented or dissatisfied.) (I know this because I could not spell the word correctly and had to look it up.) evaluating the best approach. This calculated effort identifies the best attack method or weakness to exploit.
In the above example, I wrote a fake email intending to harm Sally. However, if I wished to uplift someone or something illicitly, I could invent a fake fact: “The Army awarded Sally the silver star.”
What is going on in the mind of a fake news writer? The focus would be to develop something that sounds realistic and does as much damage as possible. In my example, I wrote, “It was so fun.” That is a nice added touch showing that Sally enjoyed being out of control.
It took creativity to develop that sentence, but did the fake news writer use the same mental tools as a fictional author? For example, an author could create a fictional story with a woman driving her car while on drugs.
In writing about this topic, I ran into a problem. I could not answer, “Is writing fake news different from writing entertainment?” So, I took a walk and decided to write a fake news story while considering the process.
To begin, I thought about an actual politician, I never met but did not like. Why this particular person? He has done great harm and is not letting up. This destruction made him a perfect target for me to write a fake news story. I spent 20 minutes crafting a malicious Facebook post. (I am choosing not to include my nasty creation because the world has enough fake news without my additions. Also, this politician is popular, and I do not wish to alienate my readers.)
My fake story was like my Sally example. It began by embellishing my computer skills and explaining how I accessed their computer. Then I described the joy of finding an incriminating email describing a drunk driving near miss.
My effort began with a moral block because I have never tried to harm somebody by spreading a lie. Plus, I knew that if I posted my creation, it was illegal, and I could face a lawsuit. But, to my surprise, this trepidation quickly passed, and I became excited. I invented details and researched creating a fake email header. I even changed the event from drugs to alcohol abuse because it sounded more realistic. Overall, the creative process was exciting, and the danger added to the moment.
When I finished my slander, I was happy. My creation looked real, and if I read it online, I would have swallowed the bait and found another reason to hate this individual.
I then took a step back to examine my mindset. This fun activity was a good outlet for my anger, and I now understand why fake news has become such a plague. Was it creative? Was it the same as writing a book? I conclude that writing fake news is two sides to the same coin. I was creative and required the same skills as writing a book. The process was like writing dialog for a villain with pride in their destructive actions.
This revelation should not have come as a surprise because our brains have limited functions. There are no separate parts for creating fiction or fake news. It all comes from the same well. Yet, I was hoping there was a difference. Good writers should be above fake news. It turns out that I was wrong.
Understanding our limits, exploring our minds, and trying new things are essential. I enjoyed this learning experience, and, like all good ones, the results were unexpected.

You’re the best -Bill
May 24, 2023
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