Bad History Is Now #fakehistory

I first posted this photo in August, 2015, but since then it, along with the erroneous caption, is once again making the rounds of “history” Twitter and Instagram accounts, I felt a bit of updating was in order.  You can click to the original post to read about all that is wrong with the caption.

I’m using the same photo as an example because of an experience I had on Twitter last week.  As the photo appeared in my feed yet again, I’d had enough, and posted to the effect that this was #fakehistory which should not be retweeted, and pointed out the errors.  Two people, both historians I respect, replied that it was all in the spirit of fun, and then one turned the tables to tell me I should not use the term suffragette, that the correct term is suffragist.  That hand-slapping came despite the fact I was quoting the original.

In a time when anything one does not agree becomes “fake news,” people who care about the truth need to be aware that not all that is fake is news.  Much of it is decades and centuries in the past.  Whereas two and a half years ago I was hesitant to correct fake history for fear of ruffling feathers, I’m afraid we have come to the place in time where making such corrections is necessary in order to keep false narratives from overtaking the truth.

But how does one read a photograph?  There was a great article on Quartz last week that gave some valuable hints for looking at photographs critically.  You might want to read the full article, but the author gave four main points.  Here I’ve applied each to the photo above.

  1. Consider the source – In this case the source was Twitter.  Anything posted to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, or any number of other social sites, should be viewed with a bit of skepticism.
  2. Pay attention to aesthetics – If the point of the photo was to show women annoying men, then why was the photo taken at such an angle that no men can be seen?
  3. Ask “What is the narrative of the photo”? – The narrative can come from a caption.  Does the content of the photo match that of the caption?  Again, where are the annoyed men?  Why are there groups of women spectators who are wearing bathing suits but are not eating?  And why is there food all over the faces of some of the eaters?
  4. Cross-check information – The facts presented in the caption are easily checked.  If the photo was made in the US, then women already had the right to vote.  If it came from the UK, all women did not get the right to vote until 1928, after a fight that had been going on for over seventy years.  At any rate, women in 1921 would not have been “early suffragettes.”  You can also cross-check a photo by right-clicking on it, and then clicking “Search Google for image.”  The first item in the list of links goes to Snopes.com, a fact-checking site.

On Sunday I posted something that is rarely seen here at The Vintage Traveler- a quotation.  The internet is full of quotes of all kinds, meant to uplift or to tear down, to justify or to destroy.  One thing is for sure, an internet “quote” often has nothing to do with the person who supposedly said or wrote it it.  The best kind of quote is one that makes us think, or that removes us a bit from our comfort zone.

But like the quote I chose to use this week, most of us use them to back up what we already believe.  Having a president’s opinion, even one from 125 years ago that most people can’t tell you a single fact about, might possibly carry more weight than ordinary Lizzie.  Or in the case of modern presidents, it might carry no weight at all, depending on which part of the political spectrum one falls.

What was incredibly easy about posting the President Harrison quote was how simple the internet made it to verify its authenticity.  There are now quote-checking websites that give detailed information about quotes and who did – and did not – say them.  Which makes me wonder why, given that it is so easy, that instead of double-checking their facts, the quote-spreaders continue to put words into the mouths of historical figures.

All this boils down to one thing:  In order to know the truth, one must look for it.  One of the skills I tried to teach my fifth graders was how to read critically, considering the source and the words carefully.  I can tell you that even a fifth grader can determine the reliability of a written passage when given the time and skills necessary for careful reading.

 

27 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint

27 responses to “Bad History Is Now #fakehistory

  1. Morning Waters

    Please keep up with correcting “false” history and/or news. I just reread George Orwell’s book 1984. The protagonist’s job is at the Ministry where he constantly changes “history’ and past “news” to reflect the current governments (Big Brother) desire. We have a scary future if we continue to think that false news is okay. I am not opposed to satire but worry that too many people do not read news with a critical eye and accept any alternative facts that come their way.

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  2. This column is why I always read your blog posts. Keep on teaching! According to a few sites I found online, pizza was mostly unknown outside of ethnic Italian enclaves in large cities until the 1940s. The lighter haired woman on the left does appear to be eating a slice of something, but it’s impossible to tell what the others are eating. Personally I have never gotten food smeared on my face after eating a slice (by hand or with knife & fork) so I am unsure that they are definitely eating pizza. I think this could show some kind of eating contest or perhaps simply a group of women trying out an exotic new food at the beach, perhaps Coney Island, where pizza was served. Razzing men hardly seems the point.

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  3. Thank you, Lizzie! Agree with you, and the previous comments.
    Am very concerned that critical thinking appears to be a dying concept.
    Greetings of the day. 💝💐💞

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ruth

    Snopes.com is no longer a reliable source for fact checking. Factcheck.org is a little better, but you should really look as much as possible at all sources you can find before posting something. I truly hate the way so many sites (I’m looking at you, facebook) are full of supposed “news” or whatever stories and they are just clickbait to get you to their sites. Then whatever headlines they were trumpeting about gets thrown around the internet as real news because no one bothers to check the facts. (There are a lot of newspaper journalists in my family so I always heard check your facts early on.)

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  5. Christine

    An invaluable post, Lizzie. Thank you. I had missed the previous photo post so went back to read it in full, then read Quartz article, too. Shame on those fun-loving historians (what now? fun facts?)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank-you for expressing this subject in your usual, clear thinking way. Even if you feel that you are preaching to the choir, we all need reminders (spotting, if you will) and especially at this time when we are being bombarded with ‘news’ and need a clear template to process it and not loose our critical thinking abilities. I have often been frustrated in the vintage fashion world by ‘naive’ sellers sharing misinformation to unsuspecting buyers but it is a much bigger deal when we are speaking of policies and decisions that can be felt worldwide. It would seem that those historians need to be reminded why history is so important!

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  7. Geez, I can’t believe someone pounced on you for using the term “suffragette” when it’s there in the caption! I had a slightly similar experience on Facebook. There’s a beloved politician who enthusiastically posts a lot of inspirational memes and quotes, and he misquoted Benjamin Franklin. When I pointed out the quote was never said by Franklin, a number of people asked me how I knew that for sure and one said, well, it’s in *the spirit* of something Franklin would have said! Oh, okay then. I fear this is all a losing battle, as I have tons of friends–educated, pretty smart folk, generally–who post “information” from the most random websites. (On Facebook again: I got into a discussion with several people over the subject of women not getting paid the same amount as men do. I don’t know if these folk actually didn’t believe me, or were simply picking a fight, but they did not believe the Forbes magazine article I posted for them which included statistics. They insisted that I give them examples of local women who were paid less than their male counterparts. I didn’t waste further time on the discussion, but I’m certain they still would have told me I was wrong if I gave them examples.)

    I think the “fake news” term is meaningless. As you said, it’s just come to mean whatever you don’t agree with.

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  8. Rebecca Peck

    Lizzie, you are my hero! When we are having an actual face-to-face conversation with someone, we can interpret their intentions/meanings based on inflection, expression, body language etc.. Unfortunately when we are posting things on the internet, our intentions are not always clear. I think it’s vitally important that anyone claiming they are an historian should post a disclaimer if they are sharing things that are “in the spirit of fun”, and that it might not be historically accurate. If it’s not corrected from the get-go, over a period of time the sharing and re-posting turns into an extended game of “Telephone” and the facts get buried. If we’re not careful, a few years down the road this could end up in a history textbook somewhere. Keep fighting the good fight!

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  9. Wonderful post, Lizzie. And much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. More important than ever, indeed. Thanks, Lizzie. As to why people refuse to do any research, I think the answer is two-fold:

    1. the very existence of the Internet initialism “TLDR” — Too Long, Didn’t Read — explains a lot. This is used (without a whiff of shame, mind you) as a form of “disclaimer” put forth when quoting or responding to an article or post, without having actually READ it. I’ve had a rightwing friend text me that the lengthy article I’d cut from The New Yorker and MAILED to his home was “just too long” to bother with. I suspect part of the problem was that he…
    2. … was afraid doing so might disprove his “closely held beliefs.”

    The only way to fight stubborn ignorance is methodically and relentlessly. Keep posting. Don’t be dissuaded. Whatever readers you may lose in the process weren’t worthy of your thoughtful discourse to begin with.

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  11. Christine

    Hadn’t heard of TLDR. This is a demoralizing disclaimer! Thanks for your post.

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  12. I recall when “fake news” was called yellow news. Yellow news is a term that goes back to the late 19th Century. However, the biggest issue today is that people of all backgrounds – as you point out- don’t do their own fact checking. They simply call whatever it is by whatever they think might be the appropriate term without understanding there might be already a perfectly good phrase (the suffragettes thing as well as fake news/yellow news are both great examples of this).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: German Spies Pictured in Fashion Magazine, 1918 | witness2fashion

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