Historical Events  Science
1835 Men on moon

Newspaper reports life found on the moon

Back in 1835 there was no Twitter, Facebook or any other kind of online social media - but that's not to say there was no fake news, either.

That summer, the New York Sun published a story claiming life had been found on the moon. It went on to describe in great detail, with elaborate illustrations, the various human-like creatures, animals and plants seen there via the invention of a new, high powered telescope used by John Hershel.

The claims began by describing lush green plains, large oceans, mountains and rivers in an idyllic scenario similar to an unspoilt earth. There were many animals exactly the same as we see here today, such as herds of buffalo, but also exotic creatures like men with wings which were called vespertilio homo (the bat human).

John Hershel is one of astronomies key figures, and at the time really was building a pioneering new giant telescope. When he learned his name was being used as an attempt to give this fake news credibility, he reacted in a similar way anyone prominent today would - with extreme anger. Seems some things never change...

Spread just like a modern fake news story

The story ran for 6 days in August, 1835, and within a week many other newspapers in New York faithfully ran it too. Within two weeks it was spreading far and wide across the US. Within 4 weeks it hit Europe - the public were fascinated by such a discovery and were hungry for every extra morsel of news about it. The news outlets media of the day were only too happy to oblige, because of course it sold more newspapers. For the first time, the eternal conflict media would forever be embroiled in between honest reporting and commercialisation began. People realy wanted to believe: they commissioned artwork showing the new world, wrote plays, sung songs.

Some editors of alternative newspapers did doubt the authenticity, but their voices were drowned out by the public euphoria and excitement. When it did all blow up several weeks later, the Sun shifted the blame, claiming they were only reporting what others had said, much as people on Twitter today do, or fall back on that old faithful excuse of claiming their account was hacked. 

It seems no matter what the medium, human nature remains the one constant we can all rely on.