Propaganda and Counterpropaganda
Back 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."
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. As court historian and messenger, Procopius's held the power to use fake news to demean his enemies.
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 was only in the hands of political and religious authorities. This was a massive and permanent shift in human development.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Walter Langer of the US Office of Strategic Services at that time described Hitler's psychological profile:
Data 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.
Shayan Sardarizadeh of the BBC explained to Hanaa’ Tameez of Neiman Journalism Lab that social media posters on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, or Twitter can make significant sums of money from “engagement farming.” Posting outrageous material that engages viewers pumps up a user’s brand, making them able to command high prices from marketers.
Sardarizadeh notes that the Israel-Hamas war (October 2023) is a particularly attractive situation for engagement farmers, and rumors and fake videos are flying.