Fake News Facts
Fake News Facts

53 Tantalizing Fake News Facts

James Israelsen
By James Israelsen, Associate Writer
Published May 5, 2020
  • The first large-scale, 20th-century use of false news was perpetrated by authoritarian governments such as the Nazi and Soviet regimes. They took advantage of new forms of mass media to persuade populations whose unfamiliarity with propaganda made it credible.[2]
  • By changing the definition of what “news” means and where it can be read, the internet has given rise to the ability for practically anyone to create fake news.[2]
  • In 2019, US President Donald Trump used Twitter to name ten winners of his “Fake News Awards,” including writers and reporters from The New York Times, ABC, and CNN.[2]
  • One motive for the creation of fake news is money, in the form of advertising income generated by attracting web traffic through the use of pop-up websites making sensational—and false—claims.[2]
  • Sometimes satirical publications, such as The Onion, have been unintentionally responsible for the circulation of fake news by readers who are unaware that the story they are reading is meant to be read as parody.[2]
  • A lot of fake news is written for and circulated by social media, such as doctored photos posted on Facebook or hoax videos on YouTube.[2]
  • Facebook has posted warnings on their website in attempts to call users’ attention to the propagation of fake news, but this has done little to prevent the use of the site to spread false information and stories.[2]
  • Roman Fake News
    Smearing one's political opponents is not a new practice
  • One of the most famous examples of fake news in the ancient world was a propaganda campaign waged between Octavian (later, Caesar Augustus) and Mark Antony. Decisive in Octavian's political victory over Antony was his making public Antony's will—which may have been a fake.[2]
  • Countries that pay news writers to comment favorably on their governments include China, Iran, Morocco, Russia, Ukraine, Cuba, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico.[2]
  • When initially asked about the idea that fake news posted on Facebook helped influence elections, CEO Mark Zuckerberg thought it a crazy idea. He has since, however, retracted his statements.[2]
  • There are 200 billion people on Facebook and 330 million on Twitter, suggesting that a large percentage of the world's population has come into contact with fake news through social media.[2]
  • Within the past few years, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have all ramped up efforts to combat fake news on their respective online services.[2]
  • Online companies can take steps to fight fake news, such as employing fact checkers and cutting off advertising revenues to sites that host fake news.[2]
  • Reasons that online companies may resist taking action to combat fake news include fear of appearing biased and fear of acknowledging, through such actions, that they are publishers rather than hosts of online content.[2]
  • Fake News Sources
    It's difficult to know where to turn for reliable information
  • One of the potential harms of fake news is that people can develop a mistrust of news in general, regardless of the source.[2]
  • A Stanford University study found that most students struggle to distinguish between paid advertising, fake news, and legitimate reporting.[2]
  • Facebook and similar sites have been accused of being complicit in the proliferation of fake news, due to the “filter bubbles” created by algorithms that seek to show the user things they have already indicated they like and/or agree with.[2]
  • The Doomsday Clock, an idea born in 1947 that tracks the threat of global annihilation, was moved from two-and-a-half-minutes to midnight to only two-minutes-to midnight by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. They claim that diminishing public discourse caused by the growth of fake news is a global threat.[1]
  • Former British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused the Russian government of “weaponizing information” by planting fake news, with the purpose of sowing discord among NATO allies in the West.[9]
  • In 2019, the top 100 fake news stories circulated on Facebook were viewed over 150 million times.[5]
  • One of the most-viewed fake news stories shared on Facebook claimed that American President Trump’s grandfather was a pimp and that his father was a member of the KKK. Neither of these claims are true.[5]
  • One of the most popular fake news stories in 2019 claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was diverting Social Security funds to a new fund that would pay for the impeachment trial of President Trump.[5]
  • A fake news piece claiming that Democrats were voting to deny veteran health care in order to provide increased care for illegal immigrants was read by millions of Facebook users in 2019.[5]
  • It is very difficult to prove libel in the case of false news about public figures; the celebrity must go beyond proving that the facts of the story are false and show that the newspaper printed the story with actual “malice.”[7]
  • Many people, including the celebrities frequently featured, consider tabloids like The National Enquirer, Star magazine, and Globe magazine to be purveyors of stories that are (if not outright lies) at best, partial truths.[7]
  • Popular tabloid newspapers are almost never successfully sued for the publication of false news; these media outlets tend to hire expensive law firms that employ a multitude of legal tricks to keep the case delayed and out of court.[7]
  • Carol Burnett is one of the few celebrities who have successfully sued a tabloid for publishing a false story. She was depicted as having been intoxicated during an interaction with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Burnett was ultimately awarded $200,000 of the $1.6 million her lawyers requested.[7]
  • Most of the time, celebrity complaints about fake news result in the printing of a retraction and agreements not to report anything new about the celebrity for a short period of time; such cases almost never make it to trial.[7]
  • When actress Elizabeth Taylor sued National Enquirer for falsely reporting that she had lupus, lawyers for National Enquirer delayed a trial by insisting on being able to do a full investigation of the celebrity’s personal life, including access to her medical records for the previous 30 years.[7]
  • Experts say that the difficulty in winning lawsuits against tabloid newspapers is due in part to the laws, which tend to favor freedom of print except in cases of intentional malice.[7]
  • Snopes.com is the oldest fact-checking site on the Internet. Snopes began as a site that debunked urban legends but has now become the most well-known source for identifying false news.[4]
  • Sensational false claims investigated by Snopes include the following: An employee at a morgue was cremated by mistake when he took an on-the-job nap; politician Bernie Sanders was a one-time supporter of the Iranian Regime; President Donald Trump denounced Republicans as the “dumbest group of voters”; and, China’s food industry regularly uses human bodies as a source for corned beef.[6]
  • In 2014, the government of Finland launched an anti-fake news initiative that aims to educate students, citizens, journalists, and even politicians on how to combat false information in the media.[8]
  • In a study comparing the ability of citizens from 35 different European countries to correctly identify verified versus fake news, Finland ranked number 1, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Estonia. The nation of Macedonia came in last, with a “media literacy index” of 10 out of 100.[8]
  • Recent popular fake news stories in Europe include claims that the German government gives migrants free “coupons” for visiting brothels, and that the European Court of Human Rights has proclaimed the protection of Islam to be more important than free speech.[10]
  • Yellow Journalism
    Making up the news has a long and lucrative history
  • In the 19th century, “yellow journalism” was a type of news reporting that prioritized sensationalism over accuracy and was fueled by competition between newspapers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.[15]
  • Historians have cited yellow journalism, with its emphasis on sensationalism before facts, as one of the factors that helped fuel the public animosity that led to war between the United States and Spain in 1898.[15]
  • Just weeks before the 2016 US presidential election, investigative journalists discovered that there were more than 140 fake news sites being operated out of a small town in Macedonia. Although written largely by teenage Macedonians, the pieces focused on fake US news, meant to be read and distributed by an American audience.[12]
  • Clickbait can often inadvertently contribute to false news, as people often note the headlines without reading the articles, in which the claims made in the headlines are toned down, moderated, or contextualized.[13]
  • Although fake news is not a recent phenomenon, references to fake news in the media itself went from almost zero in 2015 to several thousand by the end of 2016.[11]
  • Fake News Trump
    President Trump's ongoing feud with the media has brought the concept of fake news into the spotlight
  • Although President Donald Trump did not coin the phrase itself, his consistent accusations of his opponents as being purveyors of "fake news" throughout his campaign and presidency has done much to popularize the term.[11]
  • The American War of Independence from Britain is one of the first examples of weaponizing journalism in a political conflict.[11]
  • A magazine article written in 1925 warned the general public to be on guard against news received through the telegraph—a technology that could be used to spread “mischief” in the form of fake news.[11]
  • In 1980, American journalist Janet Cook was forced to return her Pulitzer Prize when it became clear that the journalistic piece for which she had won it—a story about an 8-year-old addicted to heroin—was entirely false.[11]
  • Ironically, online journalism—which had previously been seen as an unreliable source of news and which has now become the world’s major source for fake news—was given a huge boost in credibility when an online publication, Forbes Digital Tool, exposed journalist Stephen Glass as having written at least 43 fake news articles for an in-print publication.[11]
  • False propaganda has always existed in some form or other. Some scholars argue, however, that the current proliferation of fake news through online platforms is a more serious phenomenon; the chaotic and ever-changing nature of the internet prevents many stories from ever being proven wrong before their audiences have already moved on to the next new post.[11]
  • Although the propagation of conspiracy theories through internet sites operates on principles similar to the propagation of fake news, stories involving conspiracy theories are not technically fake news, as their authors believe the content they are writing.[11]
  • Advertising in News
    As is so often the case, it usually comes down to money
  • Because producers of news receive revenue in proportion to the number of times a story is clicked or linked to, some producers see fake news as the best guarantee of income because fabricating a story automatically means you will be the first one to publish that piece of news.[3]
  • Some people have begun to call modern times the “post-truth era,” a reflection of the perception average citizens are now more likely than ever to choose to believe a piece of news based on their pre-existing views rather than on facts.[3]
  • Collins Dictionary included the term “fake news” on its 2017 “Words of the Year” list.[14]
  • In America, many conservatives consider mainstream media to be riddled with fake news—a result of the liberal bias mainstream journalists are perceived to have.[11]
  • During the 2016 presidential election, fictitious Facebook account-holders from Russia spent approximately $100,000 on political ads containing fake information, in an attempt to influence the election.[3]
  • In 1997, a television station in Great Britain aired a faked documentary about a group of under-age drug addicts who were “rented out” as prostitutes. In reality, all of the “prostitutes” were youth actors, and the station that ran the story was fined 1.5 million pounds.[11]

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