The topic of "fake news" is everywhere in the "real news" these days. Facebook is working to reduce fake news by weeding out those who promote it. Schools and universities are holding seminars to help gullible students identify and disregard fake news. The Russians are purportedly foisting fake news on the US, duping voters into changing their votes in presidential elections.
But is the concept of "fake news" itself fake, at least as a news item? It seems the term "fake news" wasn't even "a thing" until the week before the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, according to Google Trends, searches for "ferrets" bested searches for "fake news" on Google by a wide margin until just before the presidential election. Although I confess that ferrets are not fake and they are "a thing," I think it's safe to say that they're not as salient to most (normal) people as the concept of fake news is currently.
It seems suspicious that this neologism acquired such a prominent status in the week surrounding a presidential election. Certainly the outlets that carried fake news existed before the election and presumably had followings approximately as large before as after the election. Why, all of a sudden, is everyone talking about fake news? Is fake news itself new?
Sadly, this phenomenon is not new to presidential politics. From the false Barack Obama birth certificate allegations, to Dan Rather's reporting of fake documents about George W. Bush shortly before the 2004 presidential election, to false allegations in 1920 that Warren G. Harding had African-American ancestors, fake news has always been prominent in politics. We used to call it yellow journalism.
It seems the concept of fake news is itself essentially an Internet meme, promoted and legitimized by the "real news" press, that arose in response to dissatisfaction with the election outcome. Although there certainly is fake news today, there has always been fake news. If anything, the Internet makes it easier to detect fake news because there are many sources of information. To report on something that happened long ago has always existed as if it were new is itself a tactic of fake news. As a result, the idea promoted by media outlets that this phenomenon is something new is itself fake news--a newsworthy irony.