Fake News: Through the Ages

We’ve heard so much about “fake news” lately, we thought it might be interesting to focus on the topic in a series of blog posts. Although it seems to be a new concept, “fake news” has been around – in one form or another – for centuries. Let’s not freak out: humans seem to have always had the impulse to use language to persuade, influence, parody, and even deceive. Let’s take a look!

Probably the most well-known form of “fake news” takes the form of propaganda. What does that term mean, exactly? Skip Wikipedia and check out the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – perhaps the best place to find all of its definitions, usages, and etymology. We have plenty of books about propaganda in the library, including some rare examples in our Special Collections Department. Explore the role propaganda plays in relation to Fascism, Communism, and politics more generally.

More subtly, we also have the urge to defend our beliefs – whether our beliefs are based on fact or not. If this interests you, try exploring apologetics and polemics. Both have played a significant role in the history of Christianity and, more generally, all faith-based ideologies.

Sometimes “facts” are manufactured as a means of critique – something we commonly call “satire.” For a great example of satirical literature, you might want to take a look a Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – we have many editions. Or, if you’re fans of comic opera, maybe check a video of any of the Savoy Operas, by Gilbert & SullivanThe Mikado is a personal favorite! But, be careful not to mistake satire for truth – sometimes a very difficult thing to avoid!

So, now that you’ve researched some historical sources related to the topic, stay tuned for our next blog post about “fake news” – with some tangible advice on how to check sources and verify facts! Not only as a means to avoid spreading misinformation, but in extreme cases of spreading falsehoods, you may be sued for libel or slander.

About Donald Juedes

Librarian for Art History, Classics, Film & Media Studies, and Near Eastern Studies

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