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History in Conversation: 'Fake News - facing the perfect storm', with Jo Fox

Episode 1 of the History in Conversation podcast, co-hosted by Hannah Elias and Liam Cunningham. 

In this episode, we interview IHR Director Professor Jo Fox about In our first episode, about fake news, propaganda, and how historical perspective on these phenomena can help us navigate the 'perfect storm' we're living through now.

‘Fake news’ – the perfect storm: historical perspectives

In this recording, from November 2019, Hannah Elias speaks to Jo Fox, Director of the IHR, about her work on the history of fake news and how historical examples can inform contemporary debates on post-truth. This was the subject of Jo's inaugural lecture at the University of London in November 2019, further details of which are provided below.


What is ‘fake news’? Undoubtedly, the phenomenon has become one of the defining characteristics of our recent past – in 2016 Oxford Dictionaries defined ‘post-truth’ to be its ‘word of the year’. But what might its significance be 100 years from now, and how ‘new’ is ‘fake news’?

his article reflects on propaganda in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to argue that we now face the ‘perfect storm’: the speed, scope and scale of modern communications, complicated by the uncertain status of social media as neither platform nor publisher and the hidden algorithms used to control the information we see; the building frustration of those who feel disempowered by elites; the desire of some to destabilize the entire social and political system through psychological warfare campaigns and by creating a situation where all views are of equal value regardless of the evidential base; where psychological warriors can operate under the radar in the largely unregulated ‘wild west’ of the internet. But what is genuinely new about this situation, and how might history help us to find appropriate solutions to ‘fake news’ within a liberal democracy?

Jo Fox, ‘Fake news’ – the perfect storm: historical perspectives, Historical Research, Volume 93, Issue 259, February 2020, Pages 172–187. To read the full text of this article visit the Historical Research website.

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