The US’s Gilded Age, where GDP averaged 4.5% a year growth for the half century from 1870, produced an army of fabulously rich entrepreneurs. For many of these nouveau riche, owning a newspaper became the ultimate trophy asset.
This ego-driven demand together with improvements in printing press technology, delivered an oversupply of titles and resulting aggressive competition for eyeballs. For a better idea of this extraordinary time, download Orson Welles’s classic movie Citizen Kane where you’ll witness the result – the world’s first mass production of fake news by what we now call the Yellow Press.
The biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is nothing new under the sun. A fact clearly evident in the mushrooming of social media, delivering a Yellow Press-type explosion of fake news. A few of the old tactics have been dusted off, like ensuring the story carries some indisputable facts before embellishments to serve the writer’s agenda. Judging by my inbox, fake news continues to fool many.
I’ve discovered the best way to combat this scourge is through applying an old chestnut: investigation before endorsement. Especially if the intention is to circulate some random mail to one’s own circle. There is some upside in all this. The novelty of fake news eventually wears off. As it did with the Yellow Press – and will with its modern equivalent. Its demise would be hastened, however, if we all did our bit.
You can listen to this morning’s Flash Briefing here.