Fake News Has Been Around A Lot Longer Than You Think – This 1904 Article Explains Methods That Have Changed Little In 100 Years
The internet has given the perceived notion that fake news is a relatively new phenomenon. Let’s say the term fake news is a misnomer, fake news should more properly be called outright lies or nonsense.
Edward Bok had a good deal to say about “fake news” when he wrote an article that appeared in the magazine World’s Work in March 1904.
Bok’s article “Why People Disbelieve The Newspapers An Explanation Of The System; That Makes Accuracy And Truthfulness Difficult To Attain” still holds a great deal of relevance today.
Edward Bok was born in the Netherlands in 1863. He immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1870 when he was six years old. Bok had to quit school when he was in his early teens to help support his family.
In 1889 at age 26, Bok became the editor of the Ladies Home Journal. Not only a talented editor but prolific writer, Bok stayed at the helm of the Journal for 30 years retiring in 1919. He wrote, “The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After.” Published by Charles Scribner’s and Sons, the book won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography. Bok died in 1930.
In 2017 the dissemination of information, good and bad can be spread in a few clicks of a mouse. Many newspapers despite dwindling readership and circulation still have vast influence on what we all read. Then there are the web sites that masquerade as news outlets pumping out story after story.
One of the main problems of evaluating news is considering the source. The internet has made that problem worse, especially for young people. Stanford Graduate School of Education concluded that, “young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”
A 2016 study conducted by researchers at Stanford found “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet, the authors said. Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.”
Countless articles have been written about the lack of fact checking in media.
There is also the real concern of media bias both liberal and conservative.
Finally it’s not just the young, there is the inability of adults to distinguish obvious comedy or satire from news. Even some of our obviously outlandish satirical stories have inexplicably been taken as fact (or even worse, fake news) by a handful of readers, even though the stories are outright ridiculous. We list those stories under the category of comedy. See links at bottom of this story to see examples.
In 1904 Bok theorized that in the race for speed, that is to get the news out quickly, newspapers purposely neglected fact-checking and would embellish or simply make up stories. Bok also discovered that this directive often came from the top down and saturated news organizations. In the rush to get a scoop on competitors and gain circulation, truth would be sacrificed.
The bigger the headline, the more outrageous the story, the more likely it would be that potential readers would not pass up purchasing a newspaper. Journalistic morals ignored lead to fake news.
Does this sound familiar? Why do people click on internet stories now? Do you fact check what you have read? How have things changed in 113 years?
Today the goal remains- how many eyeballs will come to a web site. Sometimes there is another agenda, but almost always it is to gain ad revenue. People still doubt the reality of what they read.
Here reprinted in full is Edward Bok’s article showing important lessons can always be learned from the past.
Why People Disbelieve The Newspapers An Explanation Of The System; That Makes Accuracy And Truthfulness Difficult To Attain
By Edward Bok
TIME was, and it is not so long ago, when folks believed what they read in the newspapers. But now, if people do not absolutely disbelieve all that is published in all the papers, surely much of the modern newspaper writing is regarded with incredulity. “Wait until tomorrow and it will be denied” is a frequent comment; and one need not always wait until the following day; it is too often the case that the evening papers deny what the morning papers print. Continue reading