I'm going to give the credit for the term “fake news” to Craig Silverman, an editor at BuzzFeed. In 2014, He was studying online misinformation as a fellow at Columbia University. He discovered something new: He said he found “websites that looked like real websites and wrote things in a news style, but everything was 100 percent fake.” He called it “fake news” in his blog "Regret the Error."
When Silverman became an editor at Buzz Feed, he continued his interest in online fake news. He discovered a cluster of websites from Macedonia that were publishing false pro-Trump and anti-Hillary stories. These false stories got hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and other social media. Some of these articles became hugely popular; sometimes they got more than twice as many shares as legitimate news stories about the candidates in mainstream media, like the New York Times.
It is hard to pin down who first used the term in the mainstream media. Some say the credit goes to the New York Times in a report about the fake story dubbed “PizzaGate.” According to this fake story, Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta were running a child sex operation from the basement of a popular pizzeria in Washington DC.
This story was so ridiculous I don’t know how anyone could believe it to be true, but apparently some did. In December of 2016, a North Carolina man went to the pizza restaurant with a military-style assault weapon and began shooting. He said he wanted to rescue the children. (There were no children because there was no pedophile operation.) Fortunately, no one was hurt. The shooter was sentenced to four years in prison and had to pay $5,744 in restitution for property damage at the pizzeria.
This incident shows that fake news can cause serious harm. It is not just political “dirty tricks” or a way to have fun by spreading ugly stories about someone you dislike.