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Before Trump, the long history of fake news | World

US president Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

In capital letters and with an exclamation mark, “FAKE NEWS!” could have been popularised by Donald Trump in tons of of his tweets however the idea has existed for hundreds of years.

For the US president the time period refers to what he claims are lies masquerading as news in the mainstream “Fake News Media”.

Generally, it means “false news released in the media with full knowledge of the facts,” says French communications skilled Pascal Froissart, from University of Paris eight.

This existed long earlier than Trump turned the 45th president of the United States in 2017 and method forward of the emergence of social media.

Here are some examples via history.

Dubious Byzantine ‘anecdota’

Early variations of fake news are present in the sixth-century “Anecdota” of outstanding Byzantine scholar and author Procopius, says Harvard University historian Robert Darnton.

Known as “Secret History” in English, these texts include “dubious information” on the purported behind-the-scenes scandals of the reign of Emperor Justinian, Darnton says.

They had been saved secret till Procopius’s demise and contrasted along with his official writings about the ruler.

Pharaonic fibs

French researcher Francois-Bernard Huyghe finds traces of fake news even additional again in time, throughout the interval of the Egyptian pharaohs earlier than the delivery of Christ.

For instance, Ramses II’s claimed victory over the Hittite individuals at the battle of Kadesh in direction of 1274 BC, which is well known in bas-reliefs and Egyptian texts, was in actuality a “semi-defeat”, he says.

The actual success was “that of propaganda, of the sculptors and scribes,” Huyghe says.

Half-true ‘libelles’

In 18th century France “libelles” had been quick satirical or controversial texts that blended reality and fiction in an “early form of fake news,” historian Robert Zaretsky, from the University of Houston, instructed AFP.

One merchandise revealed in London in 1771, regarding scandals in the French courtroom, even warned readers that some of the content material is “at the very most plausible” and a few an “obvious falsity”.

Rags, fabrications

Sold in the streets of France throughout the similar interval, “canards” had been well-liked newssheets that always carried made-up news, for instance, reporting round 1780 the seize of an imaginary monster in Chile.

The phrase has moved into the English language to imply an unfounded hearsay or story.

Elaborate hoaxes designed to promote newspapers emerged in the US press in the 19th century.

The New York Herald, for instance, gave in 1874 an account of a bloody escape of wild animals from the Central Park Zoo however wrapped up with: “Of course the total story given above is a pure fabrication.”

It is round this time the time period “fake news” appears to have appeared, says US journalist Robert Love in the Columbia Journalism Review.

It was a interval “when a rush of rising applied sciences intersected with newsgathering practices throughout a growth time for newspapers,” he says.


During the Cold War a calculated Soviet tactic was the “deliberate spreading of false info to affect opinion and weaken an enemy”, on this case the West, in response to Huyghe.

An emblematic case was the KGB’s Operation INFEKTION, geared toward making individuals consider that HIV/AIDS was a organic weapon created in US military laboratories.

It began with the publication in an obscure Indian newspaper in 1983 of an nameless letter making such claims, which had been ultimately unfold extra extensively.

Media hoaxed

In late 1989, as the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu tottered in Romania, photos had been revealed of mutilated our bodies dug from mass graves close to the city of Timisoara.

They had been mentioned to be victims of the regime’s safety forces. The photos went round the world, galvanising public opinion towards Ceausescu who was executed by the finish of the yr.

But the corpses turned out to be of individuals who had died from sickness or accidents earlier than the unfolding revolution.

The repetition of false experiences by different media was what Huyghe referred to as an “autointoxication” in his 2016 book on disinformation, “La Desinformation: Les Armes du Faux”.

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