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Fake News & Fake Facts: Media Literacy Awareness

Learn how language can be used to in a way that it affects the way people perceive reality. Unlike real news, whose purpose is to simply inform, the main purpose of disinformation is to confuse and manipulate people.

Timeline: Fake News Throughout History

Common Types of Fake News Throughout History

Examples: Forms of Fake News Throughout History

icon stone tableticon scroll of writing     icon movie projector    icon old-fashioned TV icon bot on laptopicon mobile phone

Smear Campaigns

  • Attempt by powerful figures to undermine someone's credibility and reputation - with the goal of distracting public attention from something they are trying to keep quiet. Historical formats:
    • poetry and verse 
    • victory coins  - slogans printed on to coins 


  • a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have

Conspiracy Theories

  • An explanation for an event or situation that asserts the existence of a conspiracy by powerful and sinister groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable; antisemitism conspiracy theories date back to the 13th century and involve workd domination, poisoned wells, banking and finance, Hitler and Naziism


  • A systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth). Deliberateness and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. Propagandists have a specified goal or set of goals. To achieve these, they deliberately select facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and present them in ways they think will have the most effect.

Examples of Fake News in History - from True or False by Cindy L. Otis

Double the Fake News in Ancient Egypt

Sphinx iconBack in 1274 BCE Ramses II, a young Egyptian Pharaoh, was planning to invade the city of Kadesh in his quest to expand control of an important trading route. He was a victim of "fake news" when enemy spies disguised as local tribesman reported that  enemy forces were still hundreds of miles away, but in reality they were planning a surprise attack.  Fortunately, Ramses was saved by the last-minute intervention of the Egyptian army. Unfortunately, Ramses took credit for the victory by promoting his own "fake news. " He. had accounts of his "great victory" carved on monuments and temples throughout Egypt. and further exapanded on it further in a poem titled, "Poem of Pentaur."

Emperor Justinian's Enemies 

crown iconIn the mid 550s CE, Ottoman's court historian, Procopius branded Ottoman Emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora as half-demons responsible for the deaths of more than a trillion people. As court historian and messenger,  Procopius's held the power to use fake news to demean his enemies.

The Invention of the Printing Press 

Image: Printing PressJohannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, invented the movable type printing press in the mid 1400s. which was the beginning of mass communication. The rise of literacy and the widespread circulation of information and ideas meant people at all levels of society had access to information that once was only in the hands of  political and religious authorities. This was a massive and permanent shift in human development.

The Power of Gender in Fake News

In 1610, 9-year old Louis XIII became King of France after the assassination of his father. His mother Marie became Regent of France and was to rule until Louis came of age.  Intoxicated with power, she refused to step down claiming her son was too simple-minded and weak to rule. Louis banished his mother to a castle in the middle of nowhere, where Marie spent her time publishing pamphlets promoting herself the better ruler. Louis retaliated with pamphlets of his own calling Marie irrational and and a bad mother. Louis ultimately won over the nobles, most of whom were men. 

The Power of the Press

In the United States "fake news' played a prominent role in gaining independence from the British. The Founding Fathers used newspapers to keep public opinion on their side. In 1782 Benjamin Franklin engaged in propaganda when he created a counterfeit version of the newspaper the Boston Independent Chronicle. His hope was articles from the hoax news paper would be reprinted in British newspapers.  His goal was to discredit the British military in the eyes of British citizens and turn the British public against the war. 

 "Fake news" played a prominent role in the second presidential campaign with both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams relying heavily on "fake news" and the press to promote their campaigns.

In the 1880s and 1890s rival publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, sough to dominate the newspaper industry. Understanding that repetition is the key to getting people to believe "fake news" they tailored their coverage to appeal to the different markets in different parts of the county. People paid to read stories about war, money, and sex. Using such topics to activate emotions which caused people to overlook both the facts and their own instincts that things didn't quite add up. 

By the 1900s the public had grown tired of being manipulated by "fake news" and by the 1920s newspapers were hiring fact-checkers to review content for accuracy, which meant reporters had to provide the sources for their information.

The Invention of the Telegraph

image - the first telegraph message

By the 1860s people were able to send messages around the world instantly for the first time thanks to Samuel Morse and his invention of  the telegraph machine. It was an accomplishment so impossible to imagine that some people thought the invention itself was "fake news."



Pictured above is the the first telegraph message - Morse Code with translation - sent from Washington DC to Baltimore.  May 24,1844 

image of old newspaper

World War II: The Big Lie

Icon image of Adolf Hitler

One of the most successful campaigns of "fake news" in history was run by the Nazi Regime in Germany. The focus of the campaign was to rid Germany of anyone who was not part of what Hitler deemed the "master race" or "straight, white able-bodied German Christians."




These people included 

  • Jews
  • individuals with disabilities
  • members of LGBTQ communities
  • Communists
  • Roma
  • people from Poland and other Eastern European countries

Hitler couldn't manage this alone. He needed to convince people these groups were the "enemy of the people" to do either join in by turning in the Untermenschen (subhumans) or to look away. Triggering people's fears (emotions) and safety concerns led to the hatred and violence that ultimately led to World War II. 

In 1933, Joseph Goebbels was appointed as Nazi Enlightenment and Propaganda Minister by Hitler to spread "fake news" about Jews, painting them as corrupt and criminals, and those with disabilities a drain on the economy and therefore "unworthy of life." A key part of the ministry's effort was to take over media and publish newspapers, posters, and flyers to spread Nazi propaganda. 

Book cover: Josephe Goebbels Nazi Minister of PropagandWalter Langer of the US Office of Strategic Services at that time described Hitler's psychological profile

Image: Primamry Source - Hitler's primary rules







Do Hitler's "primary rules" sound familiar today?

icon for thinking

  • Never allow the public to cool off
  • Never admit a fault or wrong
  • Never concede that there may be some good in your "enemy"
  • Never leave room for alternatives
  • Never accept blame
  • Concentrate on one "enemy" at a time and blame them for everything that goes wrong
  • People will believe a Big Lie sooner than a little one
  • If you repeat something frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it, no matter how illogical

Consequences of Fake News Can Be Dystopian

book cover - brave new worldbook cover 1984 

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