Fake news, fake history

November 19, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Modern social media seems to have received a bit of a shock with the result of the US election. They have had this problem of “fake news” for while now. Just so we are on the same page, fake news is the term for non-fiction where the facts are not accurately reported.

Or as Snopes.com founder David Mikkelson put it “The fictions and fabrications that comprise fake news are but a subset of the larger bad news phenomenon, which also encompasses many forms of shoddy, unresearched, error-filled, and deliberately misleading reporting that do a disservice to everyone,”

(http://www.snopes.com/2016/11/17/we-have-a-bad-news-problem-not-a-fake-news-problem/)

And there’s a lot of fake news about and not just on social media. Traditional media often displays a lack of understanding of the facts in a story. For example, a story about a scientist making a significant discovery can be be reported with the gender or physical appearance of the scientist taking the lead in the story and the discovery barely mentioned. Or the use of NBN to facilitate Beattie’s restoration gets reported with no mention of NBN at all.

When my late father wrote his book (Pictorial Portrayal of Tasmania’s Past) he engaged local history buff Basil Rait to do the history. Much of what Basil wrote was good, but he had a tendency to guess if the facts were not available to him. Facts can be checked or evidence given to support supposition and every historian brings his or her own views and distortions, no matter how minor or well guarded they keep them.

Once a bad story gets out, it lives forever. No matter how many times reputable, informed sources prove it to be false, there will always be many people who believe the original (fake) article. Vaccination is a classic example. Put aside your gut reaction for a moment. One fraudulent article in 1998 and there are still people who believe vaccines are proven to cause autism. They are not.

History is the same. History is written by the victors. And once fake history gets out, it lives forever.

I am not a historian. I think I’ve said that a few times now. The history I report comes from other sources. Where I infer things, I admit it. The story of my grandfather’s camera bag came from my head, I admit it. The fact is it’s in the shot. The reason he put it there could have been laziness or incompetence, it could have been stylistic but I prefer to believe it was to piss off his son the perfectionist. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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The Beatties Studio blog will provide some behind the scenes information on the studio, the collection of historic old Tasmanian photographs and the digitising process.

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