The Origin of Fake News

On January 9 and 10, CNN received multiple calls from a Michigan man threatening to kill everyone at the Atlanta headquarters. Although he was arrested and charged, he was released that following week on a $10,000 bond. The man was recorded saying, Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.”

Here’s the thing: fake news has been around for years. It’s been around for  Hundreds of years. This isn’t the “Era of Fake News.” It’s another period where people do not realize that their news platforms are corrupt. Just because a person on your television is reading off a teleprompter about a major event, it does not mean that their facts are accurate. Too often, people retweet catchy headlines and post articles on their social media stories and timelines without actually reading the articles.

Fake news has even driven people to the point of madness. Calling out and exposing fake news platforms is one thing, but calling CNN and threatening to shoot up up the headquarters is mad and unacceptable.

Fake news, also known as yellow journalism, dates back to the 18th century. The 1770 Boston Massacre was depicted as an event where British soldiers opened fire on “innocent” people who were protesting. In reality, the protesters were throwing snowballs, rocks, and other objects at the British soldiers.

The anger was understood since the British were in Boston to stop ongoing protests, but the protesters provoked the soldiers. The newspapers did not portray the events accurately.

Later in 1898, yellow journalists used propaganda to over-exaggerate Cuba’s conditions which essentially lead to Spanish American War. Because Americans trusted their newspapers, they believed that Cuba was a violent environment because they were trying to gain independence from Spain.

New York journalist William R. Hearst sent artists to Cuba to depict the turmoil people must be facing, but the artists realized that the people were fine. Hearst’s famous line “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war,” helped lead to America’s involvement in a war that was not really our fight because he successfully pressured these artists to do his bidding.

In 1971, America realized that not only the press lied, but their own government also lied about the Vietnam War. The release of the Pentagon Papers showed how America did not want to lose South Vietnam to a communist power that would spread communism to more countries. While the government was glorifying the war, American journalists showed another angle.  As journalists went to Vietnam and documented information, they were more interested in painting Vietnam as the bad guys than showing how both sides of the war were at fault for ongoing, deadly conflict. Viewers began to grow angry with their government and wanted to know the full truth.

Over the years, news outlets have evolved to reach audiences more immediately through our cell phones and televisions.  More than ever, we rely on multiple news sources that are all biased in certain ways. Because of these multiple sources, spotting fake or heavily biased news has become harder. It’s easy to write an outlandish and showy headline and have it published, tweeted, retweeted, and shared on many other social media sites. Retweeting a story with a catchy headline without fully reading it is an ugly practice that we have all done.

Recently, a video involving child pornography circulated on the internet, and outraged viewers shared and posted the video instead of reporting the crime. People thought they were helping because they were sharing this heinous act to raise awareness, but in reality, they were in possession of child pornography and also guilty of distribution. Although the case is to be investigated in Alabama, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department reminded people via Twitter to stop reposting the video through social media because people failed to consider the gravity of the situation.

Previously, President Trump called countries such as African nations “sh!thole” countries, and he resorted to his now predictable claim that it’s “fake news.” Both Democrat and Republican senators who were at the meeting indicated otherwise.

Since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the term “fake news” has been used to downplay any news story or platform that challenges his pride, but it was perfectly fine for his campaign to spread false information about other people of power. Distorting Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and questioning former President Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship was an easy way to spread false information. When legitimate news platforms covered these stories, they wasted their time debunking old rumors instead of reporting current news. By default, they legitimized fake news sources by making it seem like the issues were in fact relevant.

We cannot just blame media outlets for their shortcomings, however. Consumers play a role, too. As news media continues to evolve, its audiences bear some responsibility as readers and viewers. We cannot just dismiss stories that challenge our preconceived ideas as “fake news,” but at the same time, we have to realize that media bias is real and that pure objectivity rests in reading and viewing a wide variety of media from multiple sources — some of which may be biased than others.

We need to be more wary of our news sources now that we can never know if the information we are given is completely factual. Distinguish the biased platforms from the credible platforms. Investigate the platforms for reliable contact information, check the credibility of the authors and broadcasters, and do your own research on the information provided. Think twice before you share. Most importantly, read the full article, not the headline.