This topic guide will help you work with the topic of fake news. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies.
The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the fake news phenomenon, as well as some historical background on the issue. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives.
Even though the term 'fake news' did not become mainstream until the early 21st century, the phenomenon has strong historical roots. For example, we know about examples of fabricated news stories designed to manipulate dating back to the Ancient world, and within the past couple of centuries fake stories have also played central roles in the field of political propaganda - especially in connection with the two World Wars and the Cold War, where both sides of each conflict were typically interested in presenting a negative image of their opponents.
When the Internet became more and more widespread around the turn of the millennium, it provided excellent conditions for the spread of conspiracy theories. Believers in these theories now found it easy to connect with like-minded individuals, and also gained access to non-traditional news media, which might confirm their beliefs.
In 2016 the fake news phenomenon truly took off, especially driven by two very intense political campaigns in the English-speaking world - the Brexit campaign in the UK and the presidential election campaign in the US. These two campaigns were plagued by fake news stories, which were shared online to manipulate with the population - typically by either fabricating or exaggerating stories about political opponents. It was later revealed that many of the dubious news stories from the two campaigns originated in Russia, and might therefore have been part of a deliberate Russian strategy to destabilise the EU and the US.
The recent rise in fake news has had major consequences in the fields of both media and politics.
The established media have increased their focus on fact-checking - and they have also adapted their journalistic style to directly call attention to it when politicians spread false or misleading stories.
At the same time, some politicians (such as Donald Trump) have started to misuse the term 'fake news', applying it to any news story which does not fit their political agenda, regardless of whether the story is true or not. In that way they take advantage of people's failing trust in the media to promote their own version of reality.