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The Long History of 'Fake News'

The final session at ANZCA 2017 is on 'fake news' and opens with a paper by with Margaret van Heekeren, who begins by highlighting the long history of false news through the ages, as well as of legislative attempts to curtail 'fake news' and mitigate its impacts. At the same time, since the late 1800s news publishers have also actively opposed such laws, regarding them as an inappropriate restriction of their ability to report the news.

Cases of 'fake news' through the ages have also been associated with new communication technologies, including newspapers and the telegraph; such 'fake news' stories have been designed variously to sell papers, influence stock markets, or promote political propaganda.

It is also possible to distinguish misinformation from disinformation here, based on the intentionality of 'fake news' stories; motivations for creating and publishing these range from poor journalistic practices to outright propaganda. Such 'fake news' is then disseminated by social networks, time-poor journalists, opportunist groups actively attempting to influence public opinion, or sophisticated, orchestrated disinformation campaigns.

This means that social media is not core the problem, and nor is journalism – rather, the issue is that some people are prepared to disseminate 'fake news', for various reasons. As a result, there are now again calls for interventions by national government or international organisations (even though the UN has had an International Convention on the Right of Correction since the 1950s, if with only a handful of signatories). But let us not pretend that we are now living in the post-truth era, Margaret finishes: when have we ever lived in a truth era in the first place?