Fake news is a big threat to journalism and the trust between consumers of news and journalists. However, it isn’t a new problem. ‘Rumor and false stories have probably been around as long as humans have lived in groups where power matters’ (Burkhardt, 2017). It hasn’t been until recently that the term fake news has been used commonly even though it has existed for many years. ‘In the late twentieth century, the internet provided new means for disseminating fake news on a vastly increased scale’ (Burkhardt, 2017).
As more fake news articles and websites are being created it is damaging the trust between the consumer and the media. It is becoming increasingly harder to differentiate what is a legitimate news article and what is a fake news article. With the growth of social media and more people spending their time looking at ‘news feeds’ and ‘timelines’, the most important thing for an article is the title. This is due to the fact that ‘59 percent of all links shared on social networks aren’t actually clicked at all’ (DeMers, 2016). There are people that take advantage of this and purposely create fake news or clickbait in order to get more clicks or views.
A town in Macedonia labeled as ‘The fake news factory of the world’ by Wired was the ‘registered home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news’ (Subramanian, 2017). It goes on to say the websites had a lot of traffic which made the owners of the website a lot of money. This shows that a lot of people will click an article purely based on the title with no care for the legitimacy of the content. Websites like these are part of the reason consumers of news are starting to have less and less trust in journalists because they can’t always believe what they see.
Fake news has a massive impact on the credibility of journalism because nowadays many people access their news via social media or the internet and therefore nothing has to be checked before it is published unlike when the main way was via newspapers.
The reasons people create fake news are varied, whether it's for monetary gain like the pro-trump websites or as a parody in light-hearted publications like The Onion and The Daily Mash (Carson, 2018). This makes countering fake news a difficult task, although commercially driven fake news is being countered by removing adverts from the websites (Carson, 2018).
As mentioned in the introduction, fake news isn’t a new issue and according to an exhibition in Missouri, there are three types of fake news. These are “errors, hoaxes, and truths deemed false” (Sayej, 2018). These three types have existed for a very long time as people have always told lies for their personal gain.
In the Pre-Printing press era, it was mainly used by leaders to control information given to the people and they were often created to portray their great powers or success in battle. However, without any way to verify the claims it was potentially fake news. (Burkhardt, 2017).
After the invention of the printing press in 1440 there was a vast increase of information being spread. This information came in different formats such as books, newspapers, broadsides, and cartoons. These were ‘often created by writers who had monetary incentives’ (Burkhardt, 2017). Alternatively, some writers were paid to write information that benefitted the employer (Burkhardt, 2017). The result of monetary incentives subsequently threatens journalism because rather than focusing on honesty, journalists would write whatever makes them the most money.
Although it is hard to distinguish fake news in the modern era, in the days before social media it was just as hard. If a fake news article is published now, it can be deleted if discovered to be false, but in the old days when publishing was done in a physical format, it was more difficult. In 1844 on the 13th of April the New York Sun published an article entailing an extraordinary achievement. They posted excerpts from a diary that revealed that the Atlantic Ocean had been crossed in a hot air balloon in the short time of 75 hours. This diary was of course a hoax. It had been entirely fabricated by a man named Edgar Allen Poe who was a fan of hoaxes. However, with no confirmation of the feat being achieved, the Sun was forced to publish a retraction just two days later and the fake news was there for exposed (Edemariam, 2009)
On January 16th, 1926 a radio bulletin was broadcast on the BBC, the broadcast itself was supposed to be a harmless spoof thought up by a catholic priest named Father Ronald Knox. As radio was a reasonably new technology and was a trusted source of news, the public failed to recognize it as a spoof which led to mass panic. ‘The broadcaster was inundated with calls from terrified listeners over the transmission’ (Wilkes, 2011) The bulletin was reporting chaos and an attack on the city of London. It left listeners believing famous landmarks had been destroyed and a ‘government minister had been lynched’ (Wilkes, 2011). It was broadcasted on a weekend when there was a lack of newspapers due to snow which ‘caused a minor panic as people assumed the revolutionaries had stopped them’ (Fowler, 2013).
In the 2016 US presidential election, the phrase ‘fake news’ was used by Donald Trump to counter various news articles that if proven true would’ve damaged his campaign. Something that caused a huge stir after he was elected as the involvement of Russia interfering with the vote. Trump branded these allegations as “made-up story,” “ridiculous,” and “a hoax.” (Mayer, 2018). The situation with Donald Trump and his ongoing battle against the media could be crucial for journalism because he has many voters and fans that will believe in him and be influenced by him. Essentially, they will believe what he tells them to believe meaning their view of the media and journalists matches his, so they are less likely to believe any news they see. Trump has recently called the media ‘crazed lunatics’ and an ‘enemy of the people’ (Wagner, 2019). This statement is obviously bad for journalism because he is making out as if they are on opposing sides rather than just presenting news to the people.
Trump isn’t the first leader to accuse the press and news media of lying though. A very famous example of this in the past was in 1933 when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Instead of fake news though, Hitler used the word ‘Lügenpresse’ which translates to ‘Lying press’ in German. Hitler used this term to describe news companies that didn‘t support his fascist views (Zatat, 2017). Mainly aimed at Jewish, communist, and foreign newspapers, accusing them of creating ‘fake news’ (Griffing, 2017). At the start of his leadership, Hitler focused on taking control of the mainstream media in Germany to have the biggest influence he could. He set up radio, press, and newsreels to strike the fear of a ‘Communist uprising’ which was fake news. During Hitler’s takeover of the German press, many journalists fled the country due to fear of imprisonment so their positions had to be filled by inexperienced journalists who were supportive of the Nazi Party.
Fake news before the invention of the internet had serious consequences such as the ones mentioned above. With fake news becoming more popular and is now a recognized word in the dictionary after winning ‘word of the year’ for 2017 (Hunt, 2017) people have become more aware and don’t always believe what they see online which makes it harder for journalists because they might have written an exciting news story but if it seems unlikely people are less likely to believe it than before the internet existed.