Believe it or not, fake news is on the rise

These days truth is increasingly elusive, replaced by a litany of false narratives and disinformation. Previewed by George Orwell some seven decades ago, and practiced most recently by serial truth-twisters such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, fact-free fake news has become as inescapable as it is inevitable.

Gary Marlowe
14 min readNov 3, 2022


Earlier this year I published the story behind George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was a fascinating tale. But diving deep into the life of a fascinating man and the book that pretty much killed him, was a weighty tome, running to more pages than most people wish to consume.

In writing about the influence of the book, I focused attention on some of Orwell’s brilliant insights, in particular his concept of newspeak, the reshaping of language to make truth inexpressable.

However, this was buried in the more detailed life story of Orwell and the book for which he is most famous. It struck me, I needed to extrapolate much of the opening and publish it as a standalone piece.

Perhaps more than any other writer of the 20th century, George Orwell’s reputation is that of a truth-teller. For those unfamiliar with Nineteen Eighty-Four, let me briefly explain its significance.

Published shortly after the end of World War II, the novel previews our post-truth world of fake news and confusion. In it, Orwell foresaw a dystopian world where history and news were constantly revised to conform to power and idealogy.

Big Brother, the book’s sinister party leader, inspires fear and a slavish love in his subjects by holding political rallies in which he stirs crowds into murderous frenzies directed at his enemies.

The “Party” rewrites history to its liking and convinces the general population that it was never any different. The people are brainwashed to accept contradictions as fact in a concept Orwell calls “doublethink.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four projects a nightmare vision of a future in which truth has been eclipsed. As does the very term “Orwellian,” used increasingly to describe any number of troubling developments: from the habitual lying of world leaders to the toxic politicisation of the news media.

“The people will believe what the media tells them they believe.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a warning about the importance of free thought and speech and society’s relationship with truth. One of the most prophetic of all Orwellian lexicons is:

“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”

Orwell’s narrative surges in relevance in today’s political climate. In an era filled with “alternative facts” and “fake news” his final novel was certainly prescient for what it says about exerting power by distorting reality.

So just what is “fake news”?

One of the best definitions I’ve found comes from the University of Michigan who describe it as:

“Those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes. Often, these stories are propaganda intentionally designed to mislead.”

They go on to say it’s important to acknowledge that:

“Fake news is a complex and nuanced problem, one that is far greater than our narrow definition. The term itself has become politicised, and is widely used to discredit any opposing viewpoint. Some use it to cast doubt on their opponents, controversial issues or the credibility of media organisations. In addition, the rise of social media has enabled fake news stories to proliferate quickly and easily as people share more and more information online.”

The Trump administration: In 2017, when “alternative facts” rolled out of former Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway’s mouth, her words mirrored Orwell’s “doublespeak” and the discussions about it were enough to send his then 68-year-old novel to the top of Amazon’s chart — before completely selling out.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell writes that the final command of Big Brother was “the party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final most essential command.”

The same was often said during the Trump era. Believe the authorities, don’t believe your own senses, don’t believe the historical record.

This was best illustrated in July 2018 when, in an attack on the media during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Kansas City, Trump said:

“Just remember what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what is happening.”

It was an oft-repeated message throughout his presidency. It continued unabated when he was not re-elected. For then of course came ‘the big lie.’

Like most of Trump’s rhetoric it was not an original thought, merely a plagiarised one. In this case, its source was from another dark time in world history.

Attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party”

“If you tell a lie big enough and then keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

For months, the former President spread lies about the 2020 election, calling it ‘the big lie’ claiming a massive conspiracy robbed him of a second term. As a result, many Republicans now question the election results and the lie has taken on a life of its own.

Putin: Fast forward to 2022, and if you’ve been paying attention to how Vladimir Putin first talked about the war in Ukraine, you may have noticed a similar pattern. The Russian president often uses words to mean exactly the opposite of what they normally do.

For example, he labels acts of war as “peacekeeping duties.”

He claims to be engaging in the “denazification” of Ukraine while seeking to overthrow or even kill that country’s Jewish president, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor no less.

He opines Ukraine is plotting to create nuclear weapons, while the greatest current threat of nuclear war is Putin himself.

This brazen manipulation of language is drawing attention. In a CNN interview, Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, said of Putin:

“When he says, ‘I want peace,’ this means, ‘I’m gathering my troops to kill you.’ If he says, ‘It’s not my troops,’ he means ‘It’s my troops and I’m gathering them.’ And if he says, ‘OK, I’m retreating,’ this means ‘I’m regrouping and gathering more troops to kill you.’”

Rudik’s comments about Putin remind me of another set of claims:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Those were the words written on the side of the government agency building called the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell used this feature of the novel to draw attention to how totalitarian regimes — like the book’s fictional state of Oceania — perversely warp language to gain and retain political power. Orwell’s keen understanding of this phenomenon was the result of having witnessed it himself.

Orwell warned against the kind of abuses of language Trump and Putin commit, writing:

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell explored what mutual corruption of language and politics in a totalitarian regime looks like. Here the only crime is “thoughtcrime.” The ruling class seeks to eliminate its possibility by banishing the language needed to have the thoughts they had criminalised — which included any thought that would undermine the party’s totalitarian control. Limit language and you limit thought, or so the theory goes.

In March 2022, Russia ratcheted up its battle against truth and transparency when it passed a law banning the words “war” and “invasion” to describe its behaviour in Ukraine. The law sets prison sentences of up to 15 years for anyone who dares utter those words or spread other “fake news” about the conflict.

As BBC Newsnight reported:

“To utter the words ‘no to war’ in Russia today is an act of courage and defiance against an Orwellian regime that has outlawed the very use of the word war.”

Doublespeak is a political tool. As it is for many authoritarians and would-be authoritarians around the world, and just like it is with Trump, it’s also one of Putin’s weapons of choice. As Orwell warned:

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

Like many, I was first drawn to Nineteen Eighty-Four and in particular some of its famous quotes as they took on a renewed relevance in the age of Trump and the political doctrine he espouses. Two years after Trump lost the election or as he would have you think, had it stolen from him, Putin is doing the exact same thing.

And, not surprisingly, Trump still keeps trying to bend the truth. In a statement he put out on 6 May 2022 he said:

“Don’t believe anything you read, hear or see. It’s totally made up. It’s fake news folks.”

And his acolytes agree. Speaking on 17 June 2022 at the time of the January 6 Committee Hearings, former White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin had this to say:

“The more that people pushed back against the Big Lie, many Trump supporters actually believe it more.”

Coincidentally, on the very same day, one of Putin’s closest advisors, the foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was telling the BBC of a parallel reality. He declared Russia “has not invaded Ukraine” and repeated the official line from the Kremlin that there is “no war” just what is called a special military operation.

Lavrov went onto say “It’s a great pity, but international diplomats including the UN high commissioner for human rights, the UN secretary general and other UN representatives, are being put under pressure from the West and very often they are being used to amplify fake news spread by the West.”

Now denying a war and just renaming it as a special military operation is pretty much the exact same thing that the Ministry of Truth would do in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

And today, whilst that war is still being fought, another is also raging. And that’s the war on truth.

Following the FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-A-Lago — the first time a former President’s home had ever been the subject of a search warrant — there was a huge escalation in the rhetoric about what was true and what wasn’t. Depending on where you got your news from — and who you believed to be telling the truth — you could just as easily blame the FBI and Department of Justice, as you could the former President. With so much disinformation around, it quickly reached the point where, for some, the facts just didn’t matter.

As Reed Galen from the Lincoln Project commented on 13 August 2022:

“These lies are not for us, they’re for the people watching Fox News, the people that are deeply imbedded in Trump’s authoritarian movement and believe in him. For them, the truth isn’t part of the deal anymore. And the more egregious the lie, the more these folks believe it to be the truth. What we’re seeing is the right wing moving to find any defence-able space they can for Donald Trump. And remember, the truth has nothing to do with it. It just doesn’t exist in their world. And once you hear Trump say “I declassifed them” you know he didn’t. Because whatever he says out loud, you can take the opposite of what the truth is in the real world.”

On 7 September 2022, MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan said much the same:

“Whatever Donald Trump says, the truth is always worse…and usually the opposite.”

And that was something Trump himself reiterated yet again at a Save America rally in Youngstown, Ohio on 18 September 2022 when he barefacedly accused the “radical, left wing” Democrats of doing precisely what he himself always does:

“They are the party of total disinformation.”

Five days later, he repeated the same anti-Democrat message at another Save America rally in Wilmington, North Carolina on 23 September 2022:

“You know, everything they do is disinformation. And they keep saying it and saying it and people start believing it.”

In their 2022 best-seller The Divider, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser write:

“After years of experience, Trump knew how to sell the big lie. He had done it many times before. As a real estate developer, he had claimed his buildings were taller than they were. As a reality TV star, he had made up conflicts between contestants to juice his ratings. As a political provocateur, he had claimed without a lick of proof that the nation’s first black president was secretly born in Africa. The trick with conspiracy theories, he had demonstrated, was repetition and conviction.”

Such blatant projection is of course a regular part of the Trump playbook. Especially when it comes to twisting the truth. Indeed, he’s elevated it to an effective political tactic.

There’s a popular quote about truth that’s often attributed to George Orwell and said to come from Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Given the subject matter, it’s a beautiful irony that the quote itself doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the book. Neither is there any substantive evidence that Orwell either said or wrote those words. Indeed the earliest appearance researchers can find is in a 1982 book by Venturino Giorgio Venturini where the quote was attributed to Orwell.

Fittingly, the next time it appeared was in the year 1984 itself when Science Dimension, a Canadian magazine published a letter from a reader named David Hoffman who stated:

“I think George Orwell said in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Ironically, it proves what Goebbels once said about a lie: if you keeping repeating it enough times, people will eventually come to believe it!

And, in October 2022, something else happened that will undoubtedly have a big effect on the whole topic: the world’s richest man acquired the world’s leading information sharing platform. Having spent $44bn buying Twitter, Elon Musk now calls himself Chief Twit. One of his first moves was to allow back some of those individuals that had been banned from Twitter for continually promoting mistruths or pushing hateful rhetoric.

As MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan commented on 31 October 2022:

“Do the big companies care that the guy with 100 million followers, who owns the platform, is now the biggest pusher of disinformation on it?”

Almost immediately, many of Twitter’s largest advertisers either paused or pulled their advertising.

On Friday 4 November 2022, Musk began sacking around half of Twitter’s 7,500 workforce who would find out whether they still had a job by email.

Not surprisingly, peoples’ view of Twitter quickly began to change. As Ben Collins of NBC News reported:

“The staff tell me the company is a nightmare right now. It’s built on sticks and it might fall apart as it’s a house of cards.”

On 4 November 2022, MSNBC Reports host commented:

“Twitter will no longer be the reliable source that we’ve looked on for so long because we’re in the age of misinformation.”

Later that very same day, The Guardian was reporting that Elon Musk has fired the entire Twitter curation team responsible for tackling misinformation.

As Richie Assaly of the Toronto Star wrote on Twitter:

“These were the folks who tackled misinformation, contextualised conversations and helped make Twitter an unmatched source for breaking news.”

Best-selling author Seth Abramson commented on the significance of firing the curation team:

“Elon Musk has cut Twitter moderation off at the knees 96 hours before the mid terms. An election the party he favors has been spreading disinformation about systematically. He did this on purpose. We’re being played for fools by two billionaires: Trump* and Musk.”

Author’s Note: When it comes to misinformation, it’s a bit rich to label Donald Trump a billionaire.

Also writing on Twitter, the author of Fake History, Otto English said:

“Frightening. Twitter is much bigger than Elon Musk. And we could be heading into an even bigger disinformation nightmare come Tuesday.”

Reporting from Pennsylvania on 5 November 2022 ahead of the mid-term elections, Sky News’ Mark Stone summarised the state of a nation:

“America is siloed in echo chambers. So many consume wildly partisan cable news. They believe social media, they dismiss factual reporting. Conspiracy theories spread faster than truth.”

Such is the concern, just two days later, on 7 November 2022, the New York Times wrote this:

“Should Republicans sweep the House contests, their control could empower the party’s right wing, emboldening lawmakers who traffic in conspiracy theories and falsehoods.”

Of course one of the central players in Trump’s “stolen election” narrative was Dominion, the company behind the voting machines. Currently, Dominion are involved in a multi billion dollar lawsuit against Fox News. During a broadcast on 8 March 2023, MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent, Ari Melber had this to say on the subject of truth vs propaganda:

“Across history, authoritarianism needs propaganda — something more than even violence — to maintain its grip on power that otherwise does not survive as well in a truthful environment.”

He then added:

“That’s why the truth is so important. And that’s why the truth is so scary to authoritarians…wherever they pop up.”

Days prior to becoming the first ever former President to be indicted for a crime, Trump had this to say on his Truth Social on 21 March 2023:

“Whether it’s the Mar a Lago raid, or the Un-Select Committee hoax, the perfect Georgia phone call — it was absolutely perfect — or the Stormy ‘Horseface’ Daniels extortion plot, they’re all sick…and it’s fake news!”

And on his return from his arraignment in New York City on 4 April 2023, Trump gave a speech to his supporters at Mar-a-Lago. One of the lines he delivered that evening could have been penned by George Orwell for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“Our justice system has become lawless.”

On 13 April 2023 former New York Times reporter, Steven Greenhouse, tweeted this:

“Anytime Trump is angry with someone, he automatically demonises and vilifies them as ‘Marxist’ or ‘Socialist’ or ‘radical’ even when they’re light years away from being any of those things.”

He then adds:

“Trump’s dishonesty corrupts not just reality and the truth, but the meaning of words.”

And of course Trump himself continues his truth-twisting rhetoric.

Addressing the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis on 14 April 2023, he said this about the ‘radical Democrats’

“They’re the party of disinformation. Remember that. What they say, you can usually go the opposite.”

To further ram home his message, he even repeated the very same line a few moments later:

“They’re the party of disinformation — or misinformation. Nobody knows the difference, but they’re pretty close.”

A few days later, on 18 April, the “stolen election’ lawsuit brought by Dominion against Fox News was about to begin in Delaware. At the very last minute, Fox News agreed to settle and pay Dominion $787.5 million.

It was one of the largest ever payments in a defamation case, equating to around eight times Dominion’s projected revenue for 2022.

Following the settlement, Dominion’s lawyer, Justin Nelson said:

“The truth matters, lies have consequences.”

Towards the end of his 29 April 2023 address to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington DC, President Joe Biden had this to say:

“A poison is running through our democracy and parts of the extreme press. Truth buried by lies and lies living on as truth.”

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in creating out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.

On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.

He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’ and Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’.

Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’

All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Brighton rockers Royal Blood, Californian sister act, HAIM, guitar virtuoso, Joe Satriani, Fee Waybill of The Tubes and Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell.



Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people