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When Fake News Kill: The 6 Most Stubborn (and Dangerous) Legends in History

When Fake News Kill: The 6 Most Stubborn (and Dangerous) Legends in History

Gary Larson’s interpretation of the legend that Queen Marie Antoinette of France proposed that the people of Paris could eat cake when she was told that they had no bread. It highlights the absurdity of a legend which is, nevertheless, still widely believed today. It is the basic feature of a series of legends which are wrong, stubborn, and often kill people. 

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with the local people of a small Tuscan town in the countryside, when it came out that I am a member of the Club of Rome. At that point, one of them asked me, “Can you tell me how much the Club had to backtrack from their wrong predictions?” I was taken aback for a moment, but then I realized that even in a small town in Tuscany people are not immune from global propaganda. That I was asked that question is simply proof of the incredible resilience of some legends, that we may also call “fake news” or “memes“.

It is an incredibly fascinating subject: why are people so easily fooled by legends which not only have no basis in facts but are also plainly absurd? Yet, it is commonplace, one of the features of our world. So, let me try to put down a list of memes — fake news — which turned out to be extremely resilient, with a lifetime of decades or even centuries, also dangerous legends which often kill people. The list below is not complete, but I chose examples that seemed to me especially fascinating and instructive.
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