Over the course of 2019, we wrote a book.
This mixture of history and politics is about fake news and rumours that have changed the world. If the by-line and the main title’s exclamation point haven’t made it clear already – fake news has been with us for centuries as a toxic disease, and, one suspects, it is something which won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
From the days of Cleopatra to the empty slogans of Brexit, we have charted some of the most scurrilous rumours to have ever existed. There is sex, murder mystery and royal scandals. But there is something more: a catalogue of victims, those forgotten people who were cut down by sharp tongues and eviscerating fake news.
Many of the victims were anonymous, but others live deep in the public consciousness today. Marie Antoinette is more or less still seen as a spendthrift party girl, which is proof that lies can outlive their unfortunate targets.
Now that the stage has been set, we are happy to present Fake News! Bulos que cambiaron el mundo. Published by Titilante Press and written by your Irish Slice duo.
History of Fake News
Here are some key elements of the book:
Make America Great Again
Donald Trump is a liar. Normally, a statement such as this could be libellous, but I think we’ll be safe. After all, his falsehood rate is staggering, while his lawyers are fighting off their own legal troubles. But to cover ourselves, we can point to two slogans: Make America Great Again (MAGA) and Fake News.
The MAGA phrase has been in use since the early 1990s – for more see Netflix’s excellent Trump: An American Dream – and he certainly never coined ‘fake news’. It actually comes from Buzzfeed journalist and fake news obsessive Craig Silverman.
In the introduction to our book, we delve into the origin of the much-publicised sentence; most new words are fun and slight reminders of popular culture. Think Homer’s ‘D’oh!’, Netflix and chill, and roogle (regretting what you Google). But fake news and other more modern terms are as fresh as they are awful; the world is falling apart, and we have the vocabulary for it.
Nevertheless, the Nazis had a loose term for it and undoubtedly some lost Rosetta Stone – with ‘fake news’ inscrutably written on it – is waiting to be discovered.
Others & othering
Foreigners; the poor; women who were ugly, foreign and poor; the Jews, and other groups were feared, hated and persecuted. They were different, they were an other. In our chapter on the Salem Witch Trials, we show how women who were unable to bear children or who were in any way unorthodox were persecuted and even killed. Rasputin, for all his charismatic mysticism, was reviled because ordinary Russians saw him as an outsider working in the interests of a foreign power.
The victims of Jack the Ripper have been forgotten – the murdered five lost in the myth of a serial killer, overshadowed by a grisly game of whodunnit that is still being played today.
The Jews have suffered immeasurably. When young Simon of Trent turned up dead, it kickstarted a massive pogrom, while the Jews were also blamed for Germany’s defeat in World War II. Elsewhere, the Dreyfus Affair and the murder of an innocent black boy, Emmett Till, add further evidence to the fact that being different was often serious and sometimes fatal.
Crazy fake news
Then there are the crazy stories. John Law peddled some ropey economic theory around France, creating an investment frenzy so big a Parisian hunchback was offering his back as a surface to write bonds on. That’s not to mention the fascination with Roswell or the chapter where the body of a dead homeless man is dumped into the sea in order to change the course of the Second World War.
Then there’s Brexit, anti-vaxxers and a Colombian hacker. And travelling back to the Medieval period, there’s a chapter on magic rain, war and miracles. Or the Orson Welles segment, which deals with mass media and mass hysteria.
And the Voltaire chapter, where the great French philosopher fight to clear a dead man’s name in the style of the best John Grisham novel. Voltaire fought the law and won, paving the way for new ideas on interrogation and human rights.
You can read about fake news in all of its strange and dangerous forms.
A History of Fake News but hope for the future
Late this year, a plaque where Emmett Till was murdered was constructed. Sadly, this latest version of the memorial was erected because the other iterations were vandalized. As a testament to this fact, this newest monument is bulletproof. But this resolute structure symbolizes that there are many people who wish to push back against fake news. They are heroic people all over the world who dedicate their lives to Truth, and they are at the vanguard of protecting something sacred in all our lives.
The aforementioned Marie Antoinette is undergoing a transformation – a recent Parisian exhibition celebrated her status as a fashion icon, and so she was present as an influencer rather than as a decadent symbol of pre-revolutionary France. Perhaps people are changing, with a new openness to evaluating the calibre of a person, historical or otherwise. We are more open to asking who was or is the real human being caught in the snares of fake news.
You & Me
While fake news is seemingly on the rise, we argue in the conclusion to our book that we all have a part to play in fighting back. What is more, we argue that even though this particular blight will become more nuanced and sophisticated – for example, deep fake videos and fake social media accounts – society will become better equipped at recognizing it. This has already happened in former Soviet countries and there’s no reason why the rest of the world can’t catch up.
That we do this essential; to quote from our own work:
Fake news has changed the world, and this book is a warning from history, a clarion call for our modern world, and a lament for all the victims of its toxic lies and dangerous consequences.
To avoid more victims, fake news has to be stopped.
The book is currently on sale in Spain, though soon it will be available in Mexico and some Latin American countries. It can be purchased in all main bookstores (FNAC, El Corte Ingles), while you can listen to our podcast on the book by following this link. After Christmas, it will be published in the English-speaking market.
Buy the book here.
Thanks for reading!