Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Nothing that CNN, MSNBC, Yahoo, or Fox have ever published is Fake News. Any or all of those sites may be incorrect, or slanted at times, but anyone who claims that what they’re publishing qualifies just straight up doesn’t understand what the problem is.

So, what is Fake News?

Over the past few years, enterprising youths across the globe have realized that the easy money to be made online is not in spamming, or phishing legitimate sites, it’s in attracting viral attention and becoming the media platform itself.

Fake News sites are set up, primarily, by rings of programmers in third world countries who spoof real news sites to make their own look legitimate. They’ll repurpose articles from the more shocking blogs and news sites out there and slap on even more shocking headlines to drive viral attention and clicks.

One example happened after Fox’s Megyn Kelly questioned the then-Presidential nominee in a way that pissed off the conservative right so badly that they were calling for her to be fired.

The click-baiters took the idea and ran with it, writing pieces throughout their networks about Ms. Kelly’s firing, at one point making it to Facebook’s top-trending news stories.

Megyn was not fired, but it did create real problems for Fox, and they issued statements blaming Facebook for propagating the myth.

That was before the election.

In the run-up, the Fake News “publishers” tested all sorts of headlines & angles, using anything that they could think of to generate their $10k/month+ salaries in countries where their parents may make a similar amount in a year.

The results were definitive: Shocking headlines about the Republican’s greatness, the impending threats from abroad, and the corruption of the Democrats generated the most clicks and shares. There was no political agenda, just pure capitalism – which is a curious bit of self-conflicting irony for the land of the free.

So why why post about it here, in a blog about digital communications and social media? Fake News is a real consideration for us as brands. If we’re not careful, when we’re buying Facebook ads our messages can end up on their sites, and every day our social content is competing with those sites for the attention of our audiences. Consider those facts the next time that you’re planning an ad buy or content strategy – Fake News shouldn’t hold you back from anything, but it should cause you to take a minute to consider the stream that you’ll be appearing next to.

It’s also important for us as private citizens to understand clearly the difference between Fake News and legitimate news sources that occasionally get things wrong, or disagree with the people in power. Words, especially words that we use as labels, are important.