I hate to break it to you, gentle reader, but fake facts are nothing new. We are designed by evolution to invent fake facts, fervently believe in them, and even defend them to the death. Still, there is something about the current epidemic of fake facts that should scare us into action.
Imagine grading everything you ever said according to two criteria: 1) How well it corresponds to what’s actually out there, and 2) what it causes you and others to do. These can be called factual realism and practical realism, respectively, and they are so familiar that we use the word “realistic” in both senses without needing to think about it. If we’re at an art gallery and I comment on how a portrait is realistic, I mean that it corresponds closely to the person being depicted (factual realism). When you outline your latest get rich quick scheme over lunch and I call it unrealistic, I mean that it probably won’t work out well for you (practical realism). All of us are experts at toggling between factual realism mode and practical realism mode as warranted by the situation.