Home – The Evolution of Fake News

The Evolution of Fake News

Posted on 07-13-2017 by Korinne Bressler

News (n(y)o͞oz)


Newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events.

Have you ever shared a story of  the latest ‘news’ that you heard from a friend, saw in a grocery store check-out line or spotted on social media? Let’s face it: We’ve all done it—and we probably didn’t vet our sources or verify details before we decided to spread the word. Instead, we perpetuate a gossipy version of an incident because it is interesting, shocking, funny or confirms our own opinion—regardless of whether it may be fake.  

Fake news may seem like a recent development, but it has been around for quite some time. In the eyes of some academics, this year is the 2,500th anniversary of fake news according to the Wall Street Journal. These historians regard Herodotus-  the ancient Greek writer commonly called the Father of History- as a biased observer to the great events of his era that were chronicled in his seminal writings about Greek history.

According to research done with Nexis, the real birth of fake news though, coincided with the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1439, which made it possible for news accounts to be published and circulated widely with no thought of journalistic integrity.  

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable circumstances of fake news distribution throughout history:

30 BC: Octavian ran a campaign of misinformation against his rival Mark Antony, portraying him as a drunkard and a womanizer and a puppet of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII.

1755: The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was an excuse for the Church and other European authorities to blame the disaster on the revenge of sinners, saying that all those who survived owed their lives to the Virgin Mary. 

1754: Benjamin Franklin released the political cartoon, Join or Die, which included propaganda stories about King George in order to fire up the colonists for revolution.

1895: Joseph Pulitzer published widely exaggerated crime stories in order to keep up with the “Yellow Journalism” sensationalism trend led by Willian Randolph Hearst.

1950: Journalism becomes “ethical” again with the rise of disciplined reporting rules in the workplace. For several decades after this, the most influential media outlets were characterized by a common devotion to accuracy in reporting and a relentless pursuit of the truth.

2007-Today: The creation and rising popularity of Facebook and other social media sites has challenged journalism all over again. Page views, total impressions, clicks and social media shares have become the top priority for media outlets- often at the expense of the content of the news stories themselves.


Fake News in Modern Society

The U.K. newspaper The Telegraph identified three primary reasons for the prevalence of fake news in today’s online media world:

1. Distribution and Cost: The costs of publishing on a blog and distributing via social media is zero.

2. Audiences and Trust: If there is no revenue requirement to offset production costs, there is no need to build trust and reputations are far more reputable.

3. Law and Regulation: The volume of information being published online is like a tidal wave of content and it's impossible to regulate effectively in real time. 

All of this digital information has brought yellow journalism back to forefront. With so much information out there, it's often hard to stay on top of which stories are true or not. Luckily, there are ways that you can prevent getting sucked in to a fake news story.        

What You Can Do About Fake News Today

The fake news problem has created a window of opportunity for media organizations that focus on the quality of their news reporting to stand out as more valuable than ever. In a recent LexisNexis webinar, Barbara Gray, associate professor and chief librarian at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, shared a number of tips for how to fight fake news by fact-checking like a pro. Here are a few of them: 

  • Be skeptical and verify before you share. Assume they are wrong and seek corroborating evidence.
  • “Smell test” or ”Gut check” every news source. Does this seem unbelievable to you or too good to be true? Either way, verify it.
  • When reviewing a story that just broke online, check to see whether the news turns up on any trusted site. Be wary of mistaking quantity of republished stories for quality of legitimate publications as fake news tends to proliferate.
For more information on how to combat fake news, check out our webinar "Ten Tips for Fighting Fake News: How to Fact Check Like a Pro" or read our 10 Tips eBook, here

For more on our news research solution, check out our Buyer's Guide

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