Fake News has a long tradition

Already the Egyptian pharaohs use alternative facts for their purposes

Carved in stone Fake News: Representation of Ramses II in the allegedly victorious battle of Kadesch © historical
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Long tradition: Fake News is not an invention of modern times - on the contrary. Already more than 4, 000 years ago a big lie was made. In war and politics, even then, the facts were changed so that they strengthened one's own position. Even in the Middle Ages and even in the Age of Enlightenment, fake news was a common manipulation instrument of the powerful.

Fake news and "alternative facts" seem to be on the trend: they circulate in the filter bubbles of Facebook and Co, act as opinion makers on Twitter and are rampant in politics. But deliberate misstatements are nothing new - even earlier it was deliberately instrumented.

Wrong victory for the pharaoh

One example is Pharaoh Ramses II - one of the most famous rulers of ancient Egypt. When he went to war against the Hittites in the year 1274 BC, the king, who was accustomed to success, suffered a shameful defeat at the heavily fortified Hittite city of Kadesh. Returning to Egypt, however, Pharaoh summarily announced his victory and has his view of the battle held in relief.

"Alternative Facts" was also used by the Catholic Church in the early Middle Ages: it relied on a donation certificate, with which the Roman Emperor Constantine is said to have bestowed the popes Rome and large parts of Italy some 400 years earlier. The document was forged, but the church still owes the Vatican to the alleged Constantinian donation.

Free invention: alleged ritual murder of Simon of Trent in a chronicle from the year 1493. © historical

Bloodthirsty rumor

A fake news with fatal consequences brought in 1475 a preacher of the Franciscans in Trento, Italy in circulation. At that time, a two-and-a-half-year-old child was missing - and Bernardino da Feltre delivered in his sermons the alleged explanation: The Jews, he was jealous, were to blame, because they knew that they were killing small children and the Passover festival their blood trnken. display

This scary fairytale spread so quickly and was considered by so many people to be the truth that the Prince-Bishop confined the Jews of the city to torture. Even when a papal legate from Rome arrived and unmasked the story as fake news, that did not change anything: history had become a self-procrastination. For centuries it circulated in anti-Semitic circles.

Bismarck's trick

Since then, little has changed in the success of Fake News. Especially in politics and in the war, false reports were and are deliberately brought into circulation - in order to discredit the opponent and to put one's own case in the right light.

In 1870, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck uses a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts to drive the German Empire into war with France. He summarizes the text of the so-called Ems Dispatch, a letter from the French Government to the German Emperor, in such a way that it seems that France is giving an ultimatum. The manipulated text is published in the press, leaving France as the aggressor.

The creators of Terra X have compiled some historical examples for fake news in this web video. ZDF / Terra X.

Wrong figures on public finances and on the alleged deficit guilty raged in the years before the French Revolution. Even scientists like Benjamin Franklin did not shy away from getting involved in fake news. He launched a fictional story during the American War of Independence, according to which the Indian tribes, united with the British, would purposely and especially bloodthirstily scale White on the side of the revolution,

Newspapers as a counterweight

The torrent of fake news did not subside until the end of the 19th century when journalism established something of a press code. In the US, the New York Times was explicitly re-launched with the goal of reporting only verifiable facts from now on. Other newspapers joined. It is true that during the world wars there were also clear regressions in propaganda and hate speech in respect of serious journalism, yet the code has remained until today.

In times of the Internet, however, serious media have become increasingly difficult to penetrate at all and to hold their own. The Pew Research Center recently reported that in the US alone since 2004, 100 newspapers have been closed, and the number of professional reporters at the Capitol has dropped 35 percent. At the same time, the influence of blogs, internet magazines and social media is growing.

(ZDF, Politico, 31.03.2017 - NPO)