The Post-truth Yellow Effect

Remember the game Chinese Whisper, aka broken telephone? It’s a game popular amongst school children where they form a line and pass a phrase to the last person in the line who then expose the phrase. Usually, the phrase distorts into a misleading jumble of words. Well, take that and turn it into the phenomena called as the Fake News.

Broadly, fake news circulated through social media is categorized as fallacious information with aggrandized headlines or a mix of true events and incorrect facts.

There is a sudden brouhaha about the perilous nature of fake news, especially after November 8th when Donald Trump became the 45th President of America. This stunning revelation is unbelievable but the notion of fake news is not. Also Known as News Satire, there are numerous genuine fake news websites and magazines meant as a parody for entertaining the people. But recently, the mainstream media is inundated with the Facebook, Twitter, and Google being demonized for the algorithm-based dissemination of fake news. This creates the problem of segregating facts from fiction.

However, the United States of America is not new to the fake news phenomena.

What started as a rivalry between two leading New York newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst, resulted in a term known as Yellow Journalism. The Yellow journalism in the late 19th century was an era of sensational, scandal-mongering and unethical publishing of news to increase the circulation of newspapers and readership. The term Yellow journalism was derived from the cartoon character “the yellow kid” illustrated by the cartoonist Richard F. Outcault.

Though sensationalized and fake news has a history since 1790’s, the few involved in the fake news phenomenon in social media today call themselves the new yellow journalists.

Pulitzer’s newspaper the New York World had gained popularity because of the yellow cartoon strips, but when Hearst entered the publishing business with his New York Journal, he enticed Outcault with greater pay. This turning point intensified the competition between the two major newspapers. However, the main game changer was the Spanish-American War in 1898. Yellow journalism acted as a catalyst in the conflict between Spain and America. America soon became involved in the cause of Cuban struggle for independence as the major newspapers covered fabricated stories to foment sympathy for the Cuban rebels.

By this time Hearst and Pulitzer had garnered popularity, fame, and money. Their thriving business got another boost with the sinking of Maine, a US battleship in Havana harbor. The competition that was soon taken over by Hearst’s New York Journal published rumors of Spanish hand in the incident. The exaggerated false claims eventually led to the war.

It is hard to deny that social media has come to play a greater role in our lives. According to the website The Statistical Portal, Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide with 1.79 billion monthly active users. Lately, these alleged yellow journalists ran sites like Lifezette,, Conservative Tribune and others on Facebook.

With unbound information just one click away, it is not lack of knowledge but the lack of informed knowledge that needs consideration. The generation of “like, share and comment” typically prefers to read their daily news on social media. But instead of challenging the biases of people by providing different perspectives on similar issues, the social media news feed are designed to produce what people would want to see based on their opinions. Although Facebook and Google have employed measures to check misleading news, it is indispensable to discern between real and fake news. The only way is to review the news from credible sources.

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them” ~Galileo Galilei.


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