In a week that saw post-truth anointed word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, the media – mainstream and social – were full of news about fake news. Facebook was put on the defensive for allowing “misinformation” about the U.S. presidential election to spread throughout its social network. Google announced it would bar fake-news purveyors from using AdSense, its online advertising service. Paul Horner, the fake-news impresario who invented the “Amish community supports Trump” story (and many others), told the Washington Post he considered his work to be “satire.” He estimated he was earning $10,000 a month for his efforts, considerably more than the average real-news reporter. Five days before the election, BuzzFeed broke a story about teenagers in a single Macedonian town, population 45,000, who had created as many as 140 fake-news websites with American-sounding names like “TrumpVision365.com.” “Most of the posts on these sites are aggregated, or completely plagiarized, from fringe and right-wing sites in the US,” writes BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman. “The Macedonians see a story elsewhere, write a sensationalized headline, and quickly post it to their site. Then they share it on Facebook to try and generate traffic.”
It’s a depressing picture of greed and gullibility. But let’s focus on facts: What’s the authentic story of fake?
Fake news debunked by Hoax-Slayer.
Like some other words associated with false representation (bogus, sham, phony), fake was originally a cant word used by thieves and vagrants. Its earliest documented use, in late-18th-century London, is as an adjective meaning “spurious” or “counterfeit”; the verb form appeared around 1812, and the noun in 1851. The word’s origins are murky, but lexicographers have a number of theories. It may have come from the noun feak (rhymes with speak), “a dangling curl of hair,” possibly artificial; or from the verb feak, a Scottish dialect word meaning “to twitch” or “to flutter.” And those words, according to the OED, may be related to German fegen, “to furbish, to sweep, to clean.” (I immediately thought of Fagin in Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens appropriated the surname from someone he’d worked with at a bootblacking factory.)
An alternate theory holds that fake came from Polari, the specialized British slang spoken by circus performers, actors, criminals, and gay men – the name is a corruption of Italian parlare, to speak – and that its ultimate origin is Italian facciare, to make or do. In its earliest usage, to fake a person could mean to shoot, wound, cut, or kill him: to “do him in.”
Fake! (Note misspelling of “Breitbart.”) Not that this sharer, and others, cared much: The post received 10,000 Facebook shares in six hours. Via Washington Post.
Fake tan was first documented in 1950 in, of all places, the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier.
Fake quote debunked by Snopes.
In 2011, Pinchers Crab Shack, a small chain of Florida seafood restaurants, filed a $2 million lawsuit against Wendy’s over the use of the slogan “You can’t fake fresh,” which Pinchers had been using since 2004 (and for which it had had federal trademark protection since 2009.) The case was resolved in 2012 without disclosure of any details to the press.
Sorry, former manager of Trump’s presidential campaign: a protester wasn’t “paid $3,500 to protest Trump.” Check out the URL, which doesn’t belong to ABC News.
In the world of jazz, a fake book is a collection of lead sheets that help a performer quickly learn new songs. The term first appeared in the late 1940s.
For further reading:
“How Fake News Goes Viral” (New York Times)
Factcheck.org (“How to Spot Fake News”)
A list of false, misleading, clickbait-y, and/or satirical “news” sources compiled by Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. (Source: On the Media interview with Zimdars.)
The Snopes guide to fake news sites and hoax purveyors (regularly updated).