On Alien Invasions, Miracle Drugs, and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Fake News

People listened intently to their radios on Sunday, October 30, 1938—nearly 1 million listeners believed that a real, honest-to-goodness Martian invasion was underway. Panic spread throughout the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways, hoping to escape the alien marauders. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

There was only one problem: it wasn’t true.

It was performed as a Halloween episode of the War of the World series aired over the CBS radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1898).  FAKE NEWS!

There has been a lot of talk lately about fake news.  Did someone call you and tell you that all liberals hate science?  Did you read that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump?  Did your Facebook feed pop up a story about the new miracle drug that takes away wrinkles?  These are all different stories but they are connected by one thread: they’re not true.

As we live our lives more and more on the web, remember that the online world is all connected.  Our news items reflect the types of stories we are researching and the biases that we all have.  Remember how you were looking for shoes on Amazon yesterday and today your Facebook ads are all about shoe companies? The new buzzword for this phenomenon is the information bubble”. 

The ability to tell accurate news from fake news is an important skill.  Here are some tips to help you figure out what to believe and what not to believe. (We also have many resources available through our databases and will be happy to show you how to do more research at the Third Floor Reference Desk.):

Look for these books at the library that will also help you decide whether fake or fact:

“Broadcast hysteria : Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News” by Brad Schwartz
(791.44 SCH)

“Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True?” by Charles Seife
(303.4833 SEI)

“The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You” by Eli Pariser.
(004.678 PAR)

Retired Reference Librarian, Sharon Mikesell

How To Spot Fake News. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174

The Bubble. (n.d.) Retrieved May 12, 2017, from http://pioguides.carrollu.edu/posttruth

“Welles Scares Nation.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2017 from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/welles-scares-nation