"Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it."
If you think that quote comes from someone studying the spread of misinformation through social media, think again.
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, wrote those words in 1710, more than 300 years ago.
The quote has been rephrased and repeated many times in many ways. It is often misquoted and attributed to someone else. One version — “a lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots” — is often wrongly attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill.
The quote is so popular because it is so true. It is human nature to spread and believe falsehoods. The truth always has an uphill battle.
After all, false claims are much more interesting. That was true in the 1700s just as it is now.
A study released recently on user behaviour on Facebook during the last U.S. presidential election found news publishers known for putting out misinformation got six times the amount of likes, shares, and interactions on the platform as did trustworthy news sources, such as CNN or the World Health Organization.
Publishers who traffic in misinformation have been repeatedly shown to be able to gain major audiences on social media platforms.
You can blame Facebook and other social media, but it’s the humans behind the messages who are putting out the falsehoods and spreading them.
The antidote was born in Swift’s time. The first daily newspaper — The Daily Courant — started publishing in England in 1702. The first North American newspaper — The Boston News-Letter — was started in 1704.
Since then, newspapers have evolved into trusted sources of information, relaying to readers the truth about what is happening in their communities. By doing so, they have changed human history — from spurring revolutions to advancing human rights.
The truth may limp, but it is a powerful force once unleashed.
Canada’s newspapers are celebrating that power during National Newspaper Week, which runs from Oct. 3 to 9. This year’s theme is “Champion the Truth,” how the trusted journalism of local newspapers powers communities.
By supporting your local newspaper, you can do your part to champion the truth. If you already subscribe, thank you. If not, subscribe today and help make falsehoods fly away.