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National Science and Media Museum

Fake News exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum

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It’s a term that has just been added to the Collins Dictionary and is frequently entered into search engines—and now Fake News is an exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum.

Propaganda, ‘alternative facts’, doctored images and unverified statistics can be found throughout the history of human communications, but do contemporary motivations and modes of dissemination make this apparent spike in reported misinformation a unique phenomenon? 

The exhibition Fake News (24 November 2017 – 28 January 2018, free entry) examines historic examples from the National Science and Media Museum’s own collection and archives, alongside contemporary news and social media outlets, and reflects on the impact they have had. It examines recent media controversies—such as the disputed crowd attendance at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration and Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the 2017 state opening of parliament—and historic material including one of the world’s most famous photographic hoaxes, manipulated images from the picture library of the Daily Herald national newspaper, and inaccurate news reports from the Titanic disaster. 

In addition it looks at examples of viral stories from the web which demonstrate how far and fast information, claims and counter-claims now travel before ‘the truth’ catches up.  

Through historic case studies, Fake News asks:

  • How did the famous Cottingley Fairies photographs become known around the world before the era of the internet?
  • Did newspaper readers really believe reports in 1835 describing bat-like creatures living on the Moon?
  • For how long did people think the Titanic had survived its impact with an iceberg following mistaken news reporting?

John O’Shea, senior exhibitions manager at the National Science and Media Museum, said:

“The way we use technology today to consume and share current events has transformed beyond recognition in the last decade, becoming increasingly sophisticated and inscrutable.

“Through our historic collections and working with partners, this exhibition tries to stand back from the noise to see if we really are currently breaking new ground when it comes to fake news.”

The exhibition identifies five factors which can contribute to fake news: political gain; misreporting; going viral; financial gain; and ‘not letting the truth get in the way of a good story’.

Political gain

Sean Spicer, the first White House press secretary of President Donald Trump’s tenure, told reporters that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration ceremony was ‘the largest ever’. This claim came under scrutiny around the world when photographs of the Trump event and Barack Obama’s in 2009 were placed side by side. 

Going viral

This year marks the 100th anniversary of an event that is still considered among the biggest public hoaxes: the Cottingley Fairies photographs. In 1917 two cousins took a camera, now part of the museum collection, to a beck that ran through the bottom of their garden, before returning home to say they’d taken photographs of fairies. What appeared to be obviously staged images to some people were taken to be genuine evidence by others. It wasn’t until more than 60 years later the cousins owned up to faking the images.

Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story...

In 2017 the British press ran a story with photos and video footage that showed Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn failing to bow his head to HM the Queen at the state opening of parliament. Criticism of this apparently disrespectful act was followed by discussions of the correct protocol. But the story of the ‘snub’ was already out...

The Daily Herald picture library, which holds thousands of photographs used by the newspaper during its 52-year existence (1912–1964), includes examples of images apparently altered to back up a story angle. 

Mistaken reporting

Members of the Peace Studies department at the University of Bradford have contributed papers from their archive showing that unverified and unsigned telegrams stating that all the passengers from the Titanic had been rescued were reported as fact in newspapers, before the full tragedy came to light.

For profit

In 2016, Veles, a town in Macedonia, became the home of more than 100 pro-Trump websites publishing plagiarised news about the US elections. By sharing links with sympathetic Facebook groups, the websites attracted thousands of clicks, which in turn generated advertising revenue for the owners.

In 1835, the New York-based Sun newspaper reportedly increased its circulation with articles claiming that astronomer Sir John Herschel had discovered ‘bat creatures’ on the moon.

ENDS

Notes for editors

For interviews, images, and any other requests please contact Phil Oates at phil.oates@scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk / 01274 203 317

The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, opened in 1983, and has since become one of the most visited UK museums outside London. The museum explores the science and culture of image and sound technologies, creating special exhibitions, interactive galleries and activities for families and adults. It is home to three cinemas, including Europe’s first IMAX cinema screen and the world’s only public Cinerama screen outside the USA. Entry to the museum is free.