Fake news preferred to real news in the US
So it has come to this. “Fake news” is now outperforming real news and has been cited as a major factor in Donald Trump becoming president.
If you don’t believe it, you have my sympathy because I didn’t believe it at first either. But there is proof. Hard statistical evidence to show that fake news “stories” carried on social media, especially Facebook, gathered more eyeballs and resulted in more clicks than any other form of media engagement in arguably the most bizarre election race in American history.
It also resulted in a crazed Trump supporter armed with an assault rifle bursting into a family pizzeria in Washington DC two weeks ago bent on ending a child sex ring allegedly operated by Hillary Clinton according to a fake news story he read on-line. Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina is now in custody charged with assault with a dangerous weapon after firing two shots in the pizzeria but injuring no one as terrified patrons fled into the street.
Welcome to the new reality of social media and what it can do in a digital world.
But as unbelievable as this story may seem, it becomes more understandable if we can believe an analysis carried out by BuzzFeed News, a relatively new Internet giant, known for compiling listicles (10 best/10 worst etc.) and doing exacting statistical studies on the Web.
In a post election study, BuzzFeed discovered that in the early part of the campaign major, legitimate new outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News and others were engaging more voter response to their stories in terms of shares, reactions and comments than Facebook. But in the final three months of the campaign this dramatically changed as Facebook responses pulled ahead of the top 20 major media outlets by a margin of more than one million (8.7 million to 7.3 million).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played down BuzzFeed’s findings, commenting: “I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — of which it’s a very small amount of the content — influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.” But the New York Times took Zuckerberg to task saying the Facebook CEO was in denial and accused Facebook of spreading “misinformation” to its 1.8 billion users.
Just some of the false “news” stories carrier by Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets during the election campaign included: Pope Francis endorsing Trump; President Obama signing an executive order banning the national anthem from being played before sporting events; Hillary selling arms to ISIS and many more.
Paul Horner, one of the many purveyors of fake news stories on Facebook, told CBS News that Trump supporters were endlessly gullible.
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything,”
So there it is. In the Age of Social Media if you post it or tweet it, they will read it and repost or re-tweet it no matter how outrageously false and unbelievable it is. Fact checking is not part of the equation. Neither is verification through multiple sources. Illusion triumphs over truth, fantasy over reality, lies over facts.
People will believe what they want to believe and if their beliefs happen to be racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic or plain ignorant, tough! It doesn’t matter because they can always find a story or “news” on the Net that will justify their beliefs no matter how abhorrent.
George Orwell, one of the greatest journalists who ever lived, put it this way: “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Now with the Pew Research Centre saying 44% of Americans use Facebook as their primary “news” source and 62% of Americans use social media for “news” overall, maybe it’s time for another revolution.
– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who never knowingly wrote a “fake news” story, though he wanted to a few times.