An excerpt from Marc Bloch’s classic 1921 paper in Revue de synthèse historique on how false news propagates during wartime:
A false news item is always born from collective representations that predate its birth; it only seems fortuitous, or (more precisely) the only fortuitous thing in it is the initial incident, which can be absolutely any old thing that starts imaginations going — but this setting in motion only works because imaginations are already prepared and secretly percolating. An event, a misperception that did not tend in the direction all minds were already leaning could at most form the origin of an individual error, but not a popular, widespread bit of false news. If I may make my own use of a term to which sociologists give a definition too metaphysical for me, but which is convenient and after all rich in meaning, the false news is the mirror where “the collective conscience” contemplates its own features.
Wonderfully well put, and something that could hardly be more apropos in our current truthy times. More here.