Although the term was popularized in the 2016 US presidential elections, fake news has had a rather long existence, spanning over a century. It’s no new thing, although at the moment, the proliferation of fake news has built up points of great contention, trust, and turmoil.
Fake news can trace it’s history all the way back to the Spanish-American War of 1898, which was, in essence, caused by William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper the New York Journal. During this time period, the “fake news” was classified as “Yellow journalism” as the yellow tint of the printing of Hearst’s paper differentiated it from it’s rival newspaper. Hearst’s newspaper pushed out fabricated stories about the violence of the Spanish towards Americans in the Caribbean, utilizing emotion to encourage the American public to want war. This triggered a period filled with fake news, which became so rampant that a challenging newspaper rewrote it’s tagline to support “real news-not fake news”.
Despite the anxiety over the fake news, yellow journalism was able to successfully turn the people to want war, which kick-started the Spanish-American war.
Fake news did not die after the war. Instead, it went someone dormant, as there was major backlash against such fake news at the dawn of the twentieth century. However, fake news would make a new rise during World War One, churning out propaganda about the barbaric nature of the Germans, particularly against Belgium. Now, this isn’t to say that Germany did not act violently against Belgium, a peaceful country, but the fake news industry blew much of the invasion way out of proportion, churning out stories that rang not just in the US, but throughout the allied nations.
Not only that, but rampant propaganda an fake news actually fooled the entirety of the German public, who thought the entire span of the war that they were winning the war. And since the German military maintained mass press censorship, the public never knew they were losing until Kaiser Wilhelm II declared surrender.
Fake news would keep making appearances in spreading of the First Red Scare in the US, feelings of isolationism both in the US and in Europe, and the decade of harsh reeducation of the German public during the rise of Nazi Germany. Following the end of the second world war, fake news would appear intermittently, spiking during times of conflict, and declining during periods of relative peace. With the dawn of the internet, however, fake news found its new home.
The way that fake news is presented has changed in terms of proliferation, although its function and purpose has not changed in the slightest. It fueled conflict and dissent during the 2016 presidential elections, and continue to fuel political polarization and divide, particularly as the global public is much less likely to do the research to find the truth. Currently, the media stands in a precarious position, being both the source of truth and also of sensationalist fake news, which in turn damages the trust of the public. This problem becomes incredibly difficult to resolve especially as sources of media are so vastly expanded, with just about anyone, including myself, holding the ability to push out news, whether fake or not.