You can be forgiven for believing that the concept of fake news began with the age of the internet. Except Orson Welles beat the politicians to it with his famous radio broadcast of a martian invasion way back in 1938.
Welles cleverly wrapped his program up as a “breaking news” segment. Ramon Raquello and his orchestra performed a boring slow dance number but was rudely interrupted by a stern voice speaking over the ‘wireless’.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the voice began. “We interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News.” It had many shaken up, but it still continued stating that Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory had reportedly observed incandescent gas explosions at regular intervals on Mars.
The audience was riveted. And the coincidence of the Mercury Theatre on Air abstaining from commercial breaks only heightened the drama.
The radio voice continued claiming the gas to be hydrogen and that it was speeding with extreme velocity towards Earth as indicated by the spectroscope. Furthermore, the broadcast added that Princeton Observatory Professor, Prof. Pierson, confirmed the sighting and described it “like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun.”
Stampede Leads To A Media Sensation
Martian war machines attacking New York City! It seemed all too real as people began to vacate the city in their droves.
Of course, the following day, the print media responded with outrage and sensational headlines claiming that the entire country had been terrified by the radio dupe. Welles, ever the dramatist, chuckled in the background, his fame secured.
Not that it took long for the tabloid press and print media to copy them. Today, the prevalence of fake news has an almost symbiotic relationship with social media and has resulted in something perhaps far worse. One minute you’re live-streaming a Netflix series, then text you might play online slots at NetBet, and two minutes later you’re maybe searching on Google, the next you’re tempted by clickbait headlines, often created by nefarious foreign agents, usually during election time.
How To Protect Yourself?
It’s easy to look at the dupes of 1938 and wonder how they could be so easily fooled. We’ve all fallen victim to fake news at some stage or other.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) suggest a few tips that assist you in recognizing fake news:
- Check if it is a joke – perhaps it’s satire?
- Are the authors credible – and genuine?
- Examine the source – is it reasonable, and what is its purpose?
- Are the supporting sources credible, and do they support the claims?
- Is the story current? Check the date of publication.
- Consider your own biases – you’ll be amazed how easily they can affect good judgment.
The last point, confirmation bias, is especially known to distort facts. People tend to look for, and interpret, information that in some way confirms their existing beliefs or values. This means most of us will often ignore contrary information, especially when there is an emotive issue at stake.
Interestingly, author A. Brad Schwartz has written a book called “Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News.” It’s a great read should you want to learn more.