Famous examples of fake news.

Famous British astronomer John Herschel discovered life on the Moon. He used a new powerful telescope and described a series of fantastic views: hybrid creatures that were half human, half bats, who collected fruit and built temples, tailless beavers who were walking on two legs, carrying their cubs in their arms, just like humans. Life on the Moon was described in scientific detail, like a bizarre version of our own planet.

The Great Moon Hoax is one of the most famous examples of fake news and was originally published in The New York Sun magazine in August 1835. The purpose? Old-fashioned clickbait. To attract more readers. The trick was successful, the edition increased from 8,000 to 19,000 copies and instantly made The New York Sun the world's most best-selling newspaper. And even after the newspaper had revealed that everything was a scam in September of the same year, the paper kept their readers.

The War of the Worlds
Throughout history there are many examples of how fake news has been used to achieve different purposes. Making money, fulfil one’s agenda and driving public opinion are common reasons, but there are also examples of how fabricated news has been used for entertainment purposes. One of the most well-known examples of this is Orson Welles' radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. The dramatization that aired on CBS on October 30, 1938, was designed as a light-hearted music program which was suddenly interrupted by a series of news broadcasts.

Initially, it was reported how foreign objects were falling from the sky, and soon listeners were able to hear alarming descriptions of how Martians were getting out of the objects, attacking people with laser guns. The Earth was under attack from space. Welles’ radio show has been reported to have created panic in the streets of New York, but in retrospect, the extent of the chaos has been questioned. Ironically, the subsequent reporting on the effects of the radio program also falls into the fake news category. The reason? The daily press took the opportunity to try to discredit the radio industry as an unreliable news source.

Learn more about fake news

An example of fake news from more modern times stems from the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. Shortly before Election Day, the news was published that sex slaves were being held at the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington. It was also reported that Hillary Clinton and her campaign were in some way linked to the business. No matter if it was correct or incorrect, it made a man arm himself and go to the pizzeria to "administer justice". He fired his weapon but was overpowered before anyone was injured.

Pizzagate had a major impact in news reporting as it was considered showing the potentially serious consequences of fake news. As digital life merges with real life it’s more important than ever to adopt a critical approach to news reporting. We cannot rely on the news to be true and that apparently credible news sources are what they claim to be. At Factlab, it is easy to check statistics and facts, for example, and you can often directly determine whether a claim is credible or not.

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?