Who invented fake news?

Fake news is no news. In fact, there are several thousand-year-old examples of how fabricated news has been used to influence public opinion. In his description of the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, Egypt's Pharaoh Ramses II painted a picture of a crushing victory over the Hittite troops, when the battle actually ended in a draw. This approach resembles how Donald Trump has described his presidential installation as "the greatest ever," which photographs clearly disprove.

Whitewashing of stories, lies or deceit characterize false news, from the past to the present. But we don’t know who first came up with the idea fake news. It seems that not being entirely truthful has been a part of news reporting as far back as we can trace it.

Fake news in a modern shape
Although we cannot identify any historical inventor of fake news, there is at least some indication as to how the term was coined in its more modern sense. In a TEDx lecture from 2018, well-known American journalists Sharyl Attkisson claims that First Draft started using the expression false news. Founded in 2015 by Google, Facebook and Twitter among others, the organization is focused on counteracting misleading information on the Internet.

In her lecture, Attkisson is critical of First Draft's underlying purpose, and points out that there are financial links between First Draft and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. First Draft was supposed to counteract fake news, often considered to be of conservative origin, but the expression was soon claimed by the adversary side. Donald Trump made fake news into his own concept and began using it as a label on news that he did not like, or to insult traditional media.

Learn more about fake news

The future of fake news
There is nothing that suggests that fake news in order to make money, fulfil one’s personal agenda or drive opinion will disappear. However, the way it’s done might change as social media and fact-checkers work to make it more difficult to spread. Fake news as a concept is also being questioned. Some experts believe that the term is wearing out as it’s used for anything from disinformation and propaganda to satire and journalistic mistakes.

No matter what we call it, it’s more important than ever to be aware of "fake news". To not believe everything you read, but to be constantly observant and critical of sources. You yourself can help by not spreading fake news. On sites like Lead Stories and Snopes, you can check current news that is trending to see if the reports are at risk being false. And at Factlab you can always check if statistics and facts are in accordance with what has been reported.

Download our checklist “12 ways to identify fake news”

Hands on advice
With our handy checklist you get hands on advice in how to spot fake news. You will learn:

  • What are common warning signs?
  • How can format and quality help you identify fake news?
  • How do you develop a source critical approach?
  • How and where can you fact check an article?