NewsLiteracyPlaybook - Flipbook - Page 12
History of Misinformation
“Fake news means what
your side says it does.”
— Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News
that can attract readers or viewers (and, therefore,
profits), just as was the case hundreds of years ago
— only now the reach and influence are reinforced by
the sheer power of the internet.
And, as never before, citizens of democratic
countries can be targeted by repressive state actors.
It’s not a new phenomenon; during the Cold War, for
example, what the Soviets called “dezinformatsiya”
was used to plant seeds of discontent among
specific communities in the U.S. “to harden people’s
existing beliefs and fears [and] sow divisions among
Americans.” Today, though, these efforts have
reached new heights, with almost daily reports of
outside forces attempting to influence elections
around the world through social media.
In other words, news organizations that are trying
to inform citizens in a responsible and fact-based
manner are fighting for attention and credibility with
actors of varying motives, including state-sponsored
trolls trying to sow division, content farms out to
make money, and internet trolls intent on harassment
Fake news and ‘fake news’
Those fighting “fake news” say it’s important to
define it carefully.
In 2014, as a research fellow at Columbia University’s
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Craig Silverman
began tracking unverified claims and online rumors.
As media editor at BuzzFeed News, he applied the
phrase “fake news” only to wholly made-up stories
— the same definition that was applied in the late
19th century, when the term (according to MerriamWebster, the dictionary publisher) was first used in
the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump, CNBC, 2017
But the meaning of those two words changed on Jan.
11, 2017, when Donald Trump, only nine days from
being inaugurated as president of the United States,
pointed to a journalist from CNN — which had reported
the previous day on a document that contained
controversial allegations about Trump — and said: “No
questions from you — you are fake news!”
“In that moment, fake news was conscripted to fight
in the partisan wars, and was co-opted by Trump,”
Silverman wrote. “This instantly made it harder to win
the actual fight against the manipulation of platforms
for profit and propaganda, the real challenges facing
democracy in a connected age, and the risks of
censorship from platforms and governments alike.”
Silverman rues his role in making the phrase part of
the contemporary lexicon, even while noting that it has
long since lost its original meaning — or, to be honest,
any real meaning.
“The story of ‘fake news’ symbolizes how our current
information environment operates and is manipulated,
how reality itself is shaped and bent,” he wrote. “So
long as you have enough followers, propagators,
airtime, attention — and the ability to coordinate all
of them … you can literally brand real things as fake.
Repeat it often enough, and you manufacture reality
for a portion of the population. Fake news means what
your side says it does.”
Claire Wardle, the executive director of First Draft, and
Hossein Derakhshan, a writer and researcher, are
the authors of the 2017 report Information Disorder:
Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research