After a large number of papers about “Fake News” were proposed for the 2017 Annual Conference of the American Folklore Society, the editorial team of the Journal of American Folklore decided that the papers would make for an interesting and timely special issue of the journal. This “Fake News” issue brings together 15 folklorists who address “critical questions of how folklorists can contribute to the analysis of fake news, exploring definitional boundaries, varied types and forms, intended functions, and unintentional impacts. Explicit in some, implicit in others, but relevant for all of the articles is the issue of what we mean when we talk about ‘fake news.’” (from the introduction of the issue, guest edited by Tom Mould)
In the coming weeks, we will be featuring a series of blog posts from contributors to this issue. The special issue on “Fake News” from the Journal of American Folklore (vol. 131, no. 522) will be available on JSTOR and in print in mid-October.
An Introduction to the Fall 2018 Special Issue of the Journal of American Folklore
By: Ann K. Ferrell, Editor-in-Chief; Michael Ann Williams, Co-Editor; Erika Brady, Brent Björkman, Timothy Evans, and Kate Parker Horigan, Associate Editors; Susanna Pyatt, Editorial Assistant
Western Kentucky University
The term “fake news” has become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives in recent years. It is used to mean many different things, and many of its uses overlap with genres of oral expression that folklorists have long studied (legend and rumor, for instance). At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, there were four pre-organized panels examining multiple aspects of “fake news,” past and present. As editors of the Journal of American Folklore, we saw an important opportunity to get this timely work by folklorists out to a wider audience, and we approached the presenters about putting together a special issue of the Journal based on these papers. We are thrilled that they all agreed and worked hard with us to make this issue happen. We are especially grateful to Tom Mould of Elon University for stepping into the role of guest editor.
In this issue, readers will learn about historical examples of “fake news” such as an 1893 “celebrity death hoax” surrounding the man who served as Mark Twain’s guide in Istanbul (article by Stephen Winnick of the American Folklife Center) and about what once seemed to be straightforward “fake news”—articles in the satirical news publication, the Onion (Ian Brodie, Cape Breton University [Canada]). Readers will also encounter a host of familiar topics, like the false theory that President Barack Obama was not a US citizen (Patricia Turner, UCLA) and “the Bowling Green Massacre”—of particular interest to the JAF editors, who are based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the site of this fictitious “massacre” (Diane E. Goldstein, Indiana University and Timothy H. Evans, Western Kentucky University). There are examples from beyond the US, such as the creation of the fictional Republic of Veyshnoria in 2017 (Anastasiya Astapova, University of Tartu [Estonia] and Uppsala University [Sweden] and Vasil Navumau, Uppsala University [Sweden]) and a phantom “Polish Plumber” blamed for the failure of the French people to ratify the constitution of the European Union in 2005 (Dorothy Noyes, The Ohio State University). In these and other articles, folklore scholars are wrangling with how to define “fake news” and how to understand and combat it.