Fake news is an expression that is associated with controversial, biased political figures and news outlets, both established and impromptu. The seemingly modern phenomene of ‘alternative facts’ has, since 2016, come to the forefront of political debate, with the election of Trump and the UK voting to leave the European Union. Such events have led to accusations by both the media and the broader ‘establishment’ of being the result of the distortion of facts and manipulation of data, with the intention of cchaniging voters minds based on false information. In a ‘post-truth’ (Steve Teisch, 1992) world, finding out what is correct and incorrect is becoming increasingly difficult, with the wealth of information and data sources adding to already tough task of assessing the validity of a statement, and differentiating between opinion, fact, speculation and outright fiction (BBC News). The rise of social media as a means of giving the public daily news has greatly supplemeted the rapid rise of fake news, legitimising fictional stories as fact. A recent report by the London School of Economics (LSE) predicted that 95% of people aged up to 34 get most of their news from digital media sites, where fake news is most prevalent, and included the figure that 88% of US adults say that fake news has caused them a significant degree of confusion about basic facts (Barthel, et al., 2016), demontstaring the immense signifigance fake news stories can have on everyday life, let alone during elections and times of political instability. In this modern era, fake news seems to have the ability to reach nearly everyone, whilst stories that seem correct, can have significant impacts on the judgement of a given population, confusing the public and seperarting fact from fiction.
The recent use of fake news as a phrase in a modern political context has somewhat neglected the immense signiofigance fake facts have had in shaping some of the greatest misconceptions and outright lies in history. From ‘The Donation of Constantine’ to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Historia Regum Britianniae’ the prescence of pseudohistorical documents are an invakuable aspect of history, the relevance of which, with the rise of fake news, cannot be underestimated. In this essay, I will attempt to assess the extent to which falsified facts can essentially indoctrinate a population in support of a particular political ideology, and whether the early 21st century has seen a resurgence in fake facts, thereby creating misleading evidence for future historicans.
I will use a historical case study, antisemetic pseudohistory and its consequences, to assess the power of forged facts in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a more specific study of alleged fake news in the referendum on exiting the Euroipean 2016. Antisemitic canards were significant documents in fuelling anti-Semitism during the early 20th century and as such, are pertinent examples of the influence pseudo history can have in distorting the views of a population toward an entire race.
The Brexit referendum, in complete contrast, exhibits an entirely different form of pseudo facts. Rather than faked documents and documents with no legitmicacy, the cpontroversial statements throughout the referendum are more contencious examples of fake news. Despite this, the claims made remain highly impactful regarding their ability to distort the views of the UK population.
For thr purposes of this essay the following definitions are in place:
Historical case study: The influence of anti-Semitic pseudohistorical documents on the German population, 1904-1939
The quantity of falsified anti-Semitic literature is immense. Unsubstantiated allegations of world domination, control over global economic structuers and conspiracies to govern ther world in coalition with masonic organisdations have and continue to made toward Jewish people, with the evidence supplied being largely faked documents and pre-determined prejudice. The actual power that such documents have had in increasing the anti-semitic views of any population is extensive, owing to the historical legitimacy that a number of documents were given, before being debunked as wholly inaccurate.
Perhaps the most prominent of texts demonstrating anti-semitic sentiment, that was to an extent successful in its aim of exacerbating Jewish discrimination persecution, chiefly in Russia, but also in Britian and the USA, was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (or The Protocols of the Sages of Zions) , first published in the Russian Empire in 1904.
The Protocols were copied and translated in almost all European languages and in over 30 editions, with additional notes in the case of the USA. Indeed, Henry Ford was responsible for funding the printing and distribution of over 500,000 copies across North America. The document asserted that in a meeting with Jewish leaders, minutes were drawn up to dominate the world through a “government that will resemble… Vishnu’ and that the Jewish pople will ‘be feeling the pulse of varying the public opionio’. The document was treated as legimitatae by many, despite scepits, until be officallh debuked as plagurised and a ‘literary forgery’ by Phillip Graves of the Times, with large sections reveleaded as being directly lifted from Maurice Joly’s The Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, an 1864 satirical and fictional work critisscing the regime of Napolean. Despite its clear forgery, however, the Protocols remained influential in the justification of Nazi policy towards the Jewish people. Nazi leaders themselves recognised the Prootcls as a work of pseudscholarship, with SS Commander Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski noting that the Jewish community had ‘no organisation whatsoever’ and that the Zazi theory that the Jewish people are a ‘highly organized group’, which the Prtocols contributed to significantly, was ‘the greatest lie of anti-Semitism’. The influence of the Protocols, therefore, on the Nazi Leadership, does not lie in the fact that people genuinely believed it as a legitmitmate historical document, although some did and continue to do so, more as story arc, using the document as propagangda against Jews, thereby capitalsing on a pre-existing Jewish prejfudice and German nationalism, a political convixtion that ran high amongst the German populace during the Nazi Party electoral successes in the years 1930-33. Moreover, Hitler referred to the Protocols in Mein Kampf, stating that ‘the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people’. This statement is indicative of the the Protocols being used as a pseudohistoical document to increase anti-semitic persecution against Jews, ‘Despite conclusive proof that the Protocols were a gross forgery’ that Hitler was fully aware of.
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