Wednesday 11 December 2019
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theguardian - 19 days ago

Before Trump: the real history of fake news

Made-up facts and boastful dissimulators have been with us for hundreds of years but do you know your taradiddlers from your ultracrepidarians?As the UK slouches towards yet another general election, the social media giants have adopted contrasting approaches to the problem of dishonest campaigning. Twitter has banned political ads altogether, while Facebook will serenely allow them to spread falsehoods. Indeed, it is often supposed that the age of Trump and Brexit heralds something new: the political supremacy of the lie absolute, the cynical fabrication, the bot-netted virality of fake news. But old words buried in the geological strata of the English language tell quite the opposite story, that made-up facts and boastful dissimulators have always been with us. To unearth and polish these fossils may act as some small consolation, while providing resources for expressive resistance to the ongoing omnishambles.Last month, the European commission cautiously welcomed some self-assessment reports from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla under the aegis of its Code of Practice on Disinformation, while noting sorrowfully that “large-scale automated propaganda and disinformation persist”. The word “disinformation”– probably derived from the Russian dezinformacija – stems from the earliest years of the cold war, and properly means sowing falsehoods among one’s enemies in order to confuse them about one’s own capabilities or intentions. But the more general term “misinformation” – spreading untruths – has been around since the late 16th century. Samuel Johnson, writing of the king of Prussia in 1756, said his subject “declares himself with great ardour against the use of torture, and by some misinformation charges the English that they still retain it”. Continue reading...

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