In its literal form, fake news is made up and fabricated, masquerading as a true story designed to attract maximum response.
But the new buzz-term has been expanded to include rumour, satire and jokes that snowball or become exaggerated via social media, as everybody becomes a publisher.
Experts insist that, while the phrase has only been coined recently, the concept is not new, although they fear it has become more “sinister” of late.
Andy Dickinson, senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, said fake news was “not a new concern”, but said: “It seems now fake news is something more difficult with a more disturbing agenda behind it – not to trip people up but to actually distort the truth for people.
“From a journalism perspective it’s not a new problem, but since Trump and Brexit it’s taken a more sinister turn and Trump used it to dismiss the mainstream media.
“Any paper that doesn’t portray him as the messiah is fake news.” Mr Dickinson said, from an industry perspective, the term fake news most resembled “click bait”.
He said: “That traditionally means you read the headline, follow the link, and what you get is not what the headline says. Fake news is that times 10 but looks like journalism, talks like journalism.” He said he would “absolutely make a distinction between the regional and national press”, but said: “I look at a lot of national websites and I could look at what I see as fake news.”
But, referring to regional journalism, he said: “For all it’s accused of click bait, there’s nothing that I would point at and say that’s even approaching what I think would be fake news.”
He added: “If people in positions of responsibility tell lies, is it not the job of a journalist to point that out?
“If people call that fake news, it shouldn’t stop the role of journalism to always do right by its audience.”
So-called fake news is often circulated on social media, and Mr Dickinson said: “We need to look at the motivation of why people do that on social media.
“A large number of fake news sites publish that stuff because it generates revenue – they don’t care if it is deleted tomorrow, they will have made their money and moved on.”
Mr Dickinson said it could be “almost indistinguishable” to identify what had been posted from a genuine website, and what was not.
But he added: “I think if people are trying to avoid fake news and think I don’t like being lied to, in the first instance they should go to sources they trust.
“If they are looking for news, go to traditional news organisations, go to your local newspaper, their website, the BBC, ITV, because you have a right to expect there’s a modicum of integrity. “It might be biased, or infuriatingly balanced, but at least you know there’s a process behind that and also a redress.
“I would look for brands that you recognise and trust – that’s where I think traditional media will always win out.”
Across the world
Nationally, a parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the “growing phenomenon” of fake news.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has set up the probe into the issue of “widespread dissemination, through social media and the internet, and acceptance as fact of stories of uncertain provenance or accuracy”.
Launching the inquiry, Damian Collins MP, chairman of the committee, said: “The growing phenomenon of fake news is a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general.”
And Facebook last year announced it would begin flagging fake news, with the help of users and fact checkers.
In 2016, a high proportion of fake news internationally was linked to US politics.
Stories included a claim that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump for president, and claims from Trump that the election would be “rigged”.
And a notorious example was the conspiracy theory around Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington DC which later saw a man firing a rifle in the premises.
The local picture
Across Lancashire, alternative and satirical news outlets have sprung up, sharing stories on social media.
With the major influence of Facebook, stories can be posted and reach thousands of people instantly, bypassing the traditional media and its processes.
For example, bosses at a Lancashire care home hit out after being put on “trial by social media” in 2015, after a Facebook post showing injuries to a resident went viral.
St Stephen’s Nursing Home in North Shore, Blackpool, was at the centre of a media storm after photos of the 89-year-old’s injuries were shared online thousands of times.
The posts prompted a joint investigation by the CQC, police – who later ruled out foul play – and Blackpool Council.
An alarm that should have alerted staff to the fall did not activate - but bosses, who hit out at the “unfair” criticism they faced online, say it was working.
Police found no evidence of any wrongdoing and the CQC concluded its own investigation after finding no cause for concern, and found the home was “safe”.
And, aside from rumours and snowballing social media posts, completely “fake” news has caught out some readers across the county.
Last year, a fake online news article tricked some Facebook users into thinking refugees were moving into a Lancashire army camp.
The story, which was made up to look like a Mail Online article but was a hoax, claimed soldiers at Weeton Barracks, near Kirkham, were going to be turfed out of the base so it could house about 900 refugees fleeing Syria.
But the false news was slammed as “utter rubbish” and “absolutely ridiculous” in a post on Facebook by a spokesman for the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment Association.