September 20, 2017
If you have been on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites lately, you will notice that more and more people are sharing fantastical stories and “news” to their friends from dubious sites. These are what people call fake news. Fake news is either something made up by an entity to simply tell a lie or something that a journalist wrote with the belief that they are telling the truth.
Fake news is not actually anything new and, in fact, has been around for centuries now. Some people say that the first known incident of fake news that rocked a populace was in 30 BC involving Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and Octavian, with the latter spreading rumors about Mark Antony to destroy his credibility. There are others however who argue that it cannot be considered fake news if it was never published and therefore, any news or information shared via word of mouth is considered rumor and not news.
So when did the real “fake news” first come to light? It has been said that this phenomenon was actually created after the Guttenberg Press was invented in 1439. Since then, information that was false or imaginary but printed for the populace to read was considered fake news, although not everyone knew that then. It is only now that people can discern what is real from what is imaginary when it comes to the news.
There are many conflicting details as to who wrote the first fake news article that was found out to be false after it was published. Some say the first true incidence of this kind of journalism was in 1835 when the New York Sun published stories about giant man-bats and goat-like creatures on the moon. There are also claims that such false stories of fantastical beasts and creatures were first published in books in the 1600s and claimed to be real incidents, even when these were just made up.
Over the years, fake news took on different roles and names, with the spread of altered and embellished stories being part of this particular phenomenon together with propaganda and fear mongering. What makes these falsified claims dangerous is not that people read them but that people took action when they believed such utterances, as is the case with the stories of Jews engaging in ritual child blood drinking in the 15th century where an entire community was arrested and tortured simply because one person of authority claimed that this was what was happening.
These days, fake news has taken the internet by storm and is being gobbled up by the gullible and even by those who are usually very discerning about what they read. People who write these things now know how to manipulate what they write in order to make these come across as real news, even when these are actually fallacies. While journalism did clean up its ranks of such things in the 1950s with disciplined rules for researching, writing, and printing, the rise of social media and the ease in which people can create websites these days has given fake news a new platform to thrive in.
These fake stories are now being used by entities to destroy public figures, discredit otherwise innocent individuals, and even topple governments. They do this to gain fame, wealth, and to curry the favor of those who want these things to happen. The only solution to this kind of proliferation of false news is to know how to determine true stories from made-up ones, and that is dependent on the reader.