Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Fake News & Bad Info: Media Literacy Resources

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 fake news is to confuse and manipulate people.

Definition of "Fake News"

liar's nose iconThere is no single definition for the term, "fake news".  Generally the term is refers to false or misleading information presented as news. Most often the purpose of "fake news" is to cause harm to the reputation of an individual or group of individuals, to gain, regain, or sustain power, or to simply make money.  It's also used by people to "refute" any news or information they don't like, and thus shut down a conversation. 

Although false news has always been spread throughout history, the term "fake news" was first used in the 1890s when sensational reports in newspapers were common.

Egyptian Pharoah Ramses II - Self-Promoting "Fake Victor"

Sphinx iconBack in 1274 BCE Ramses II, a young Egyptian Pharaoh was planning to invade the city of Kadesh route 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 claimed enemy forces were still hundreds of miles away, when in reality they were planning a surprise attack. 


Ramses II was saved  not by his soldiers who lagged behind, but by the last-minute intervention of the Egyptian army. They had to retreat and ultimately agreed to a peace treaty. However, Ramses, proclaimed himself victor, promoted his "fake news" by having accounts of his great victory carved on monuments and temples throughout Egypt. He spread his "fake news" further in a poem titled, the Poem of Pentaur.

Technology and "Fake News" - The Printing Press

Image: Printing Press


Johannes 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 only  in the hands of the political and religious authorities. This was a massive and permanent shift in human development

Who Has the Power in the Battle of "Fake News"?

crown icon

The Power of the History

In 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. Procopius was not a fan of the Emperor and Empress, but as historian held all the power.


The Power of Gender

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 ruled until Louis was of age. Besotted with power she refused to step down and claimed that her son was too simple-minded and weak to rule. The new king banished his mother to a castle in the middle of nowhere, but Marie spent her time trying to regain power by  publishing pamphlets declaring herself the better ruler. Louis published pamphlets of his own calling Marie irrational and and a bad mother, and won vero win 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 published a fake newspaper supplement styled to look like the Boston Independent Chronicle and sent it to friends in the colonies and England  in hopes of building support at home with and turning the British public against the war. 

Founders continued to use "fake news" after 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, topics that triggered their emotions which caused them 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.

Technology and "Fake News" - The Telegraph Machine

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

Pictured above is the the first telegraph message - Morse Code with

translation - sent from Washington DC to Baltimore.  May 24,1844 

World War II: Weaponizing "Fake News"

The Big Lie

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. These people included - Jews, individuals with disabilities, members of LGBTQ communities, Communists, Roma, people from Poland and other Eastern European countries, and others who were not "straight, white able-bodied German Christians." 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 in this way 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. 

Walter Langer of the US Office of Strategic Services at that time described Hitler's psychological profile: 

Icon image of Adolf HitlerImage: Primamry Source - Hitler's primary rules



Book cover: Josephe Goebbels Nazi Minister of Propagand





Hitler's primary rules were:

  • 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 him for everything that goes wrong
  • people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one
  • if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it

--- Langer, Walter C.   “A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend.”
    Office of Strategic Services.  

History of "Fake News" Source

quote icon


Otis, Cindy L.,  True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Fighting Fake News. New York: 2020.

Technology and "Fake News" - Social Media

social media iconsData gathered from social media and other sources shapes the ads that dominate our news feeds. Data is gathered based on what we like, comment on and share; the posts we hide and delete; the videos we watch; the ads we click on; the quizzes we take, and for the sole purpose of money and profit. 

Social media and messaging to try to sway voters in presidential elections particularly in the US and Kenya This is very bad news for anyone worried about truth and democracy. While in the US,  fake news helped to propel into power a man lacking the credentials to be president, but in countries like Kenya, fake news can kill. 

Background Information on "Fake News" Today from Credo Reference Database

How to Spot Fake News

Image - How to Spot Fake News

Infographic Text: Investigate the credibility of the source - Read beyond the headlines - Check the author's credentials - Is there a list of sources? - Is the article current and relevant or old and dated? Does the information seem like a joke or satire or is it real? - Check personal biases to see if it affects your judgment. - Do your own fact-checking or consult a librarian.

Western Technical College
Western Technical College Learning Commons
Student Success Center, Room 201
400 7th Street North
La Crosse, WI 54601
State Relay: 711
EEO Statement

Learn more about Western and the Learning Commons.
The Learning Commons provides library and academic support services on campus and online. The Learning Commons will set you up for success!

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For details and exceptions, see the Library Copyright Statement.
©2020, Western Technical College

If you are experiencing disability related accessibility issues with any information on this website, please email or call 608-785-9524.