Fake News from 1920

On 11 April a series of faked photographs are expected to fetch £65,000 at auction. The original pictures taken in 1917 by two schoolgirls appear to show fairies and a gnome in a Yorkshire garden. Two years later they were displayed at a meeting of the Theosophical Society. Photographic experts declared them to be genuine images. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle obtained permission to use the pictures in an article and his endorsement encouraged others to accept the reality of fairies. Some people even visited the area and claimed sightings of their own.

Despite this the media were largely unconvinced. Doubts were vindicated in 1983 when the girls admitted that they had faked the images using cardboard copies of images from a book. They maintained that it was not a deliberate attempt to mislead, just a deception that spiraled out of control.

Today we see a lot of fake news, clearly intended to deceive, that is accepted by sections of the media without question. We can learn a lot from the contemporary reaction to the Cottingley Fairies.


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