Fake news? It’s nothing new, says Trinity College Dublin historian

Historians in the News
tags: Trinity College Dublin, Fake News, Linda Kiernan



Plus ça change. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Today we may hotly debate ‘fake news’, the role of women in power and politics, and how the ‘selfie’ shows our public face, but these phenomena are not as new as we might think, and our perspectives can deepen when we roll back the centuries.

Historian Dr Linda Kiernan from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) takes that more nuanced view, informed by her studies of gender relations, behaviour and conduct in the French court in the 17th and 18th centuries. ‘As long as there has been news, there has been fake news; and as long as there has been information, there is misinformation and disinformation.’

While we might hear cries (or read tweets) about fake news, the dubious truth of widely shared information goes way back in human culture, according to Kiernan, a lecturer in French history at TCD’s Department of History and at the Centre for European Studies.   

“As long as there has been news, there has been fake news; and as long as there has been information, there is misinformation and disinformation,” said Kiernan, who spoke at the recent Probe event in Trinity for European Researchers’ Night. “There are those who willingly mislead others and those who will, through their own ignorance, deceive others unknowingly.”

While the utterances of a certain US president may be putting fake news on our radars, the term itself was first used in print more than a century ago. Earlier still, ‘false’ news was a topic of debate even in the 16th century, and propaganda was rife from the early producers of printed news in the 17th century, according to Kiernan, who recently wrote about this issue for The Conversation.

But today, when individuals with internet access can create and spread news with the touch of a button, the problem scales. ...




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