The Greatest Cases of Fake News

Fake news is spreading more rapidly and massively than ever on the surface of the world, often feeding on our intellectual passivity and credulity. The acceleration of the phenomenon is largely due to Internet, especially as today nearly 50% of the world’s population uses social networks.  And yet this drift of information is not limited to the virtual medium. Fake news is at the heart of contemporary issues, and can sometimes infiltrate traditional medias such as paper newspapers. Today, we are going to look back at the biggest stories of fake news that have marked  world news as well as the political world.

Yes Men, The New York Times Special Edition

Since 2004, two activists under the pseudonyms of Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, have become masters in the art of denouncing the excesses of the capitalist system by means of caricature and humor. Through highly publicized hoaxes, they target large industrial groups as well as financial giants and political leaders. On November 12, 2008, one week after the election of Barack Obama, the Yes Men distributed, in the streets of New York, nearly 80,000 copies of a fake edition of the New York Times dated July 4, 2009. In this “fake” newspaper they announced only good news: the end of the war in Iraq, free college tuition, the introduction of a maximum wage… This spectacular performance questions the power of the traditional media which, because of their editorial choices, retain a certain vision of the world often presented as the one and only. 

One of the fake edition of The New York Times

Stephen Glass, the “mystifier”

The Stephen Glass story caused one of the biggest journalistic scandals of the 90s. It even gave rise to a film directed by Billy Ray in 2003. Stephen Glass, a young and brilliant journalist, contributed to the success of one of the most reknown American political magazine : The New Republic. The scandal broke when it was discovered that most of his articles were fabricated: the events had never taken place, the sources were completely invented. For example, Stephen Glass once mentioned to the editorial board his supposed meeting with Ian Restil, a very young hacker whose spectacular hacks were said to have prompted U.S. law enforcement action. Of course, it was all made up… To make matters worse for the New Republic editorial board, it was the team from Forbes, a rival magazine, who discovered the deception.

Big Data and Mark Zuckerberg 

The duo of researchers, artists and activists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe, created  several videos in 2019 thanks to the technique of deep fake. Deep fake is a video generated by artificial intelligence that uses real images of a person and transforms them by adding a completely invented speech. Thus, in some videos, we can see Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, rejoicing in exploiting the personal data of millions of users. These videos quickly become a worldwide buzz. They show how easy it is to make anyone say whatever you want. This technology, accessible to all, pushes back the boundaries of fake news and gives them a new striking force. 

Rumor protocols of September 11

This scandal reminds us that fake news is not a recent phenomenon. In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the wave of anti-Semitism that swept through the United States, a documentary by Marc Levin looks back at an infamous rumor. The Jews would have fomented a plot to control the whole world, and would therefore be at the origin of the attacks. This rumor originates from a book published in 1903 in Russia: Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The book quickly became a best-seller, was translated into many languages and is said to have inspired Hitler in Mein Kampf. Through numerous interviews, Marc Levin deciphers the mechanisms of conspiracy, based on fear and hatred towards certain well identified communities and designated as scapegoats for the world’s problems. 

Thus, all kinds of manipulations are to be feared through traditional media as well as on internet platforms. However, there are ways to face this drift of information. To protect ourselves from the dangers of the media, we must develop our critical spirit by informing ourselves and educating ourselves, thus questioning our perception of reality and our beliefs. We can also rely on tools and techniques to quickly verify information. Everyone can therefore become an actor of his informational destiny !

Manon Houset

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