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Fake News

Truth, lies and the pursuit of a good story have always influenced the news.

Since the US presidential election in November 2016, ‘fake news’ has become a buzz phrase. But it’s far from a 21st-century phenomenon: propaganda, doctored images and unverified statistics can be found throughout the history of human communications.

In this exhibition, we investigated how and why these stories are created—and how new technologies are changing the ways information is spread across the globe.

Going viral

What happens when a story gets out of control? The Cottingley Fairies photographs are still considered among the biggest public hoaxes: in 1917 two girls took what they claimed were photographs of real fairies, only admitting to faking the images 60 years later.

‘Fake news’ for profit

Many of us are drawn to scandalous news, or stories that fit with what we want to believe. This section explored the profit motive for invented or exaggerated news, from outrageous headlines in the 1830s to social media ‘click farms’ in the present day.

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

What’s the difference between biased and ‘fake’ news? We invited you to compare original photographs from our Daily Herald picture library to altered newspaper images, and footage from the State Opening of Parliament with contrasting tabloid headlines.

‘Fake news’ for political gain

The idea that news can be false has been used to influence politics. Conflicting reports on crowd size at the inauguration of President Donald Trump showed how it can be difficult to gather enough information to make a judgement.

Mistaken reporting

Today, traditional media sources face increasing pressure to cover breaking news. Early reports from the sinking of the Titanic, erroneously claiming thousands of passengers were safe, prove that the difficulty of distinguishing rumour from fact has always existed.

Live debate: Fake News on Trial

In this special one-off event, we brought together a panel of guests to debate how museums and the media can deal with the challenges of ‘post-truth’ reporting. They addressed questions around who is responsible for the fake news phenomenon, how the authority of information can be maintained in a fast-changing media landscape, and what strategies can be adopted to respond.

Our special guest speakers were Samira Ahmed, Natalie Kane, John Lubbock and Dr Gabor Batonyi. The panel was chaired by John O’Shea.

Fake News on Trial was presented in partnership with the Division of Peace Studies and International Development at the University of Bradford. The Division of Peace Studies and International Development combines one of the oldest Peace Studies teaching departments in the world and the legacy of BCID (Bradford Centre for International Development). BCID is a centre of global reputation which has seen knowledge transfer and the study of applied development practice since 1969.

This event formed part of Digital Cultures, a quarterly series of dialogue events running through 2017/18, supported by Arts Council England.

Part of the Science Museum Group