Evolution of Fake News: From Yellow Journalism to the Internet Age
The Evolution of Fake News
Fake news, despite being a new term, has been around for an exceedingly long time. While no one can know exactly when it began, it was likely not long after the creation of written language. It has been used ever since, though in varying forms and with varying motives. The internet age then opened an entirely new set of doors for fake news since it is anonymous and accessible to nearly everyone.
The Role of Social Media
In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that 62% of U.S. adults get some of their news from social media. Fake news has taken on many forms, including yellow journalism and propaganda, but now, in the internet age, we are in a very dangerous time with fake news. Because of this, media literacy should be considered an important part of our education from an early age. Yellow journalism began in the late 19th century and, as described in “Yellow Journalism,” an article by Richard Sheposh, a writer for the Salem Press Encyclopedia, “Yellow journalism is a style of news reporting that relies on sensationalized and often manufactured elements in an effort to attract attention.” The beginning of yellow journalism is usually accredited to Joseph Pulitzer and his journalism in the New York World. Pulitzer discovered that by making his journalism more sensational and catchier, focusing on topics such as scandal and crime, he could sell more newspapers. This, in turn, would make more money through advertising.
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Yellow Journalism’s Historical Impact
Yellow journalism likely also played a part in the beginning of the Spanish-American war when the USS Maine exploded in pearl harbor. Journalists like Pulitzer reported this as being entirely the wrongdoing of Spain. They sold newspapers claiming that the USS Maine hit a mine left by Spain, with dramatized illustrations of the ship exploding. While the exact cause of the explosion was never found, most credible sources at the time attributed it to an onboard explosion of the main turret ammunition.
Propaganda Through the Wars
Propaganda is another form of fake news, as it often contains fabricated or greatly exaggerated facts and ideas. According to ” Propaganda,” an article by Mark Dziak, a writer for the Salem Press Encyclopedia, ” Propaganda refers to the process of using words, images, and other forms of communication to sway the opinions of others.” Dziak then illustrates that, because of increased communication technology, propaganda was at the height of its usage impact during World War I and World War II. This propaganda was designed to convey messages through emotion rather than conscious thought. The more emotional and dramatic the propaganda was, the more impact it had. Some propaganda was oriented at specific demographics, targeted to affect only certain people, while others were aimed at affecting a broader range of the population.
During World War I, the U.S. government needed to convince citizens to support the war effort. In order to do this, the U.S. government created Committee on Public Information. This organization was created to persuade citizens that the war was for the good of the people. The propaganda produced by the Committee on Public Information was meant to increase hatred of the enemies, boost morale, and convince enemies that the U.S. possessed more weaponry and technology than they truly did. A particularly prominent example of propaganda was the German Corpse Factory.
This fictitious factory purportedly collected deceased soldiers from German battlefields and rendered them down for fat for use in manufacturing weaponry and machinery. This story was spread as truth by newspapers, becoming believed by many. When the U.S. entered World War II, the U.S. government faced a challenge, much like the challenge they overcame in World War I, of persuading citizens to participate in and provide support for the war. The government responded in a similar fashion, creating pro-war media in the form of cartoons, posters, and films. Due to the scale of the engagement, World War II required more troops and, in turn, more citizen support than any other recent war.
The Role of the Internet
While fake news has existed for a long time, we are currently in a flourishing time for fake news. This is due to the invention of the internet and its popularity. Today, most fake news is found on the internet, either on social media or fake news websites. An example of a fake news website is the now-defunct news site wtoe5news.com. This website posted an article claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump during his campaign. This fake news article was shared over one million times on Facebook.
A large reason why fake news is so common on social media is that 62% of U.S. adults rely to some extent on social media for their news. It is also far simpler and easier for people to create news on social media than in a newspaper. For example, to become a writer for any reputable news source, such as The New York Times or The Washington Post, a prospective journalist must already possess strong writing skills and pass a job interview. In contrast, on the internet, any person with an internet connection can simply post whatever they wish. The internet is also anonymous since the poster of the fake news can simply use a pseudonym as their online title.
Challenges and Solutions
Fake news is clearly an issue, but finding a solution to it is less than straightforward. While it certainly would be convenient if people simply ceased spreading false information, it is unlikely to ever happen. Another option is to make fake news illegal; however, this would be extremely difficult to enforce effectively. A more easily implemented solution is to simply educate people in media literacy.
Media Literacy: A Necessity
Being literate in media enables you to discern what is real news, what is fake news, and what is simply satire, such as the Onion or Saturday Night Live. Media literacy should be considered a crucial part of our education, given the current impact of fake news.
The 2016 Election and “Fake News”
The event that greatly popularized the term “fake news” was the 2016 United States presidential election. The term was frequently used, particularly by Republican candidate Donald Trump. He began to use it not to refer to the deliberate spreading of false information but simply anything he disagreed with or found offensive. Donald Trump’sTrump’s mentality about the definition of fake news has made it a somewhat overused term whose meaning often can be confusing.
- DiLascio-Martinuk, Tracey M. “Fake News.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2017.
- Dziak, Mark. “Propaganda.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2017.
- Gottfried, Jeffrey, and Elisa Shearer. “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 27 Dec. 2017.
- Sheposh, Richard. “Yellow Journalism.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2016.