"Fake News" is not new.

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The Launch of Gutenberg’s Printing Press

Before the invention of the printing press, books were manually copied in monasteries. The process of slow communication quickly changed when Johannes Gutenberg created his printing press in 1439. Although religious and political sources had information to share, there didn’t seem to be enough news to interest the general public. In a time that lacked both neutrality and ethics, the need for news to fill the pages outweighed any truth or reality. Stories were collected from seafarers that proclaimed to have seen monsters in the deep all the way to altered political documents from the Venetian government. It wasn’t until Galileo’s trial regarding his findings that historians stepped in to begin reporting and publishing verifiable sources. We give Voltaire credit for creating the Age of Enlightenment that created ethics in journalism.

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Aix-en-Provence Possessions

What began in 1611 as a single incident involving a mentally unstable girl that had become a nun and having a romantic relationship with a priest, Father Gaufridi, quickly moved to a state of hysteria involving accusations of demonic possession. The situation eventually involved up to eight nuns, all exhibiting body contortions, ravings, and behavior conducive with their religious belief of possession. All was ultimately blamed on Father Gaufridi, and he was accused of sorcery, even though they didn’t find anything that related to the accusation. The court proceedings for Father Gaufridi became the lead published story that the public followed. Father Gaufridi was placed in prison and afflicted with both mental and physical torture until he confessed and a “pact document” was produced, allegedly signed with the priest’s blood. Although he later recanted his confession, he was sentenced to death. The executioners dragged Father Gaufridi through the streets for five hours where...

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Fake News and the French Revolution

Years of taxation and exploitation of the poor combined with centuries of benefits for the privileged led to the tipping point in France in the late 1700s. The general public was kept in the dark regarding the health of the nation’s coffers. However, this condition changed when pamphlets began to be circulated in Paris that detailed the government’s near-bankruptcy and budget deficit. The concept of misinformation was taken to a crescendo as each side of the political arena contradicted each other; placing the blame on the opposite camp. The confusion was finally almost clarified as leaked documents let the people know the general state of financial condition, with the public being placed in a position of being required to figure out what was the truth. This chaos of lies in publications assisted in leading to the French Revolution.

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The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

During this era, many of the natural disasters were blamed on sinners and divine retribution. Thus was the case of the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 (also known as the Great Lisbon earthquake) that occurred early Saturday morning in the Kingdom of Portugal. The devastation that was seen included fires and a tsunami, with the death toll placed in Lisbon alone at between 10,000 and 100,000 people. Seismologists estimate that it was an 8.5-9.0 magnitude, and it became one of the most convoluted stories at the time. European political and church authorities placed the blame for the disaster on those that were sinning, and fake news pamphlets known as relações de sucessos began to appear in Portugal with claims that survivors saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and gave the apparition credit for saving their lives. The fake news continued to such a degree that Voltaire, the famous philosopher, became an activist to fight against fake religious news.

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The Dreyfus Affair

Late 19th and early 20th centuries found no loss in Antisemitism in Europe. A scandal that took on world fame began when an artillery captain in the French army and a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused and falsely convicted of espionage by giving military secrets to the German enemies. Before he was sent away, they held a public ceremony where the crowd yelled “Death to Judas, death to the Jew.” While Dreyfuss was sent to life imprisonment in French Guiana Devil’s Island, new evidence was discovered by an army intelligence unit member that proved another officer was the true traitor. The evidence led to the additional court proceedings of the real traitor; however, that officer was found not guilty. Outraged by the incident, a well-known author, Emile Zola, published the open letter “J’Accuse….!”, defending Dreyfuss and accusing the military regime of covering up the case. Although Zola was later convicted of libel and escaped, he represents another individual that stood...

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Photography Adds New Technology for News Hoax

There is no surprise that once photography became popular that it was used as a vehicle to create misrepresentations. The most notorious of these examples is “The Cottingley Fairies.” This news story involved a series of five photographs taken by two young female cousins in England in 1917. The pictures depicted the girls surrounded by what they claimed were real fairies that they had discovered. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought the photographs to the public’s attention when he used them as part of his published article on the topic of fairies. Published in the 1920 Christmas edition of The Strand Magazine, Doyle felt the images validated his personal enthusiasm for spiritualism and used them as valid evidence for the verification of psychic phenomena. Many years later both girls, now grown to adulthood, admitted that the pictures were fake. The cameras, along with the photographs are currently in a display in the Bradford, England National Science and Media Museum.

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Operation Mockingbird

This particular situation may have been the catalyst that launched suspicion into U.S. government organizations. The exposure of this vast program that involved the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) started in the early 50s. The purpose of Operation Mockingbird was to feed misinformation to the news media and use it for propaganda to the American public. The CIA invested money into cultural and student organizations as well as magazine publications as they posed them as the face or “front” to spread the false info. Under the guise of Operation Mockingbird, the CIA recruited some of the top journalists in the U.S. as part of the network so that they oversaw many of the groups. Spreading of the propaganda through the network continued until 1967 when the CIA was exposed. An article in Ramparts magazine revealed that large funding amounts had been given to the National Student Association and it was traced back to the CIA. Congressional investigations and reports were held in the...

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Russian Propaganda: AIDS Created by American Scientists

A disinformation campaign about the AIDS virus was launched by the Soviet Union in 1985 to undermine trust in the U.S. and creating stronger anti-American sentiments around the world. The lies involved their statements that the AIDS virus was manufactured by U.S. scientists in a military laboratory in Ft. Detrick, Maryland. Known as “Operation Infektion,” the original 1962 article was published in an Indian pro-Soviet publication called “Patriot” by the Russian KGB for disinformation purposes. In 1985 the KGB enlisted the help of an East German biologist and his wife, both pro-Soviets, to co-author a pseudoscience report validating the lie. The disinformation then spread like wildfire around the world, repeated in Soviet publications, radio broadcasts, tv and wire services. The story was covered in over 30 languages in 80+ countries and eventually made the television news in the U.S. Complete fabricated by the Soviet KGB, their goal was to promote the U.S. as a base for...

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Worm meat in McDonald’s hamburgers.

One of the most bizarre stories that hit social media and took off was the 2016 listing on a variety of fake news websites reporting that the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) had set up an investigation regarding “cases of parasitic roundworm disease linked to the McDonald’s restaurant chain.” The articles were promoted by websites such as ILyke and TopRatedViral, known for spreading fake news, and were complete lies. They included such misinformation as original cases in Chicago for McDonald’s using ground worm filler in their all-beef patties, listing the content as 23% and purchased from “Roger Lee’s Worm Farm.” The misinformation has been debunked by many of the top fact-checking organizations, but it was too late to keep the general public from spreading it on Twitter and Facebook as real.

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The Massive Brexit Propaganda

With the onslaught of fake news running rampant on every level of media, the high spot of those spreading the misinformation began with the Brexit vote in the U.K. This was a real testing point as the Brexit campaign came out of the gate with false and misleading claims. While both sides were guilty of having campaigns that were embedded in flaws, the claims themselves left the people of Britain wondering what to believe. Some of the most notorious false claims that caused outrage included: The money that is saved from departing from the EU will put £350m back in the NHS, one of the easiest things in human history will be a free-trade deal with the EU, 2/3 of jobs in Britain’s manufacturing depend on European demands, there will be an influx of Turkish immigrants to the UK once Turkey joins the EU, If Brexit is passed Scotland will renew its demands to be independent, If the UK votes Brexit in it won’t have to leave the single market. It’s believed that much of this...

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2016 US Presidential Election: Propaganda Reaches New Heights

Part of the ultimate and long term goal of Russia has been to destroy both information and confidence in the election process of democracies around the world. The 2016 Presidential election resulted in the discovery and charge of 13 Russian nationals to illegally disrupt the American political process. The tools that the Russians used included a variety of misinformation methods. Hundreds of fake social media accounts spread lies and propaganda through paid ads. The Russians, impersonating real Americans created “political intensity through supporting radical groups,” criticizing Hillary Clinton, but not Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. One of the most famous viral conspiracy theories that were produced was the “PizzaGate” incident, accusing the Clintons of running a child trafficking ring from the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. which resulted in an alt-right man firing a rifle inside the restaurant and the owner receiving death threats. The propaganda wings...

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Zuckerberg and Facebook Ads Ethics

The explosion of popularity of social media allowed these platforms to be a bastion of advertising profit without the benefit of a moral or ethical compass. As Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. Congress, it became painfully clear that the organization accepted any form of advertising as well as member ID’s, whether fake, lying, or being misrepresented. Facebook took billions of dollars in disinformation ads as they related to the 2016 Presidential election process. The platform, along with others such as Twitter, made no effort to investigate or even try to curb the massive amount of misinformation that was being spread about Hillary Clinton, while promoting Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Add to this the fact that Facebook shared personal member information with the entity Cambridge Analytica. Their goal was to design ads and campaigns to target specific demographics and affect their opinions with misinformation and eventually persuading them to either not vote or vote...

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