Politics is a polarizing topic that becomes increasingly more polarizing with the spread of fake news.
The 2016 election flooded the Internet with fake news. Between the presidential candidates and their passionate supporters, the works of fiction quickly spread. Supporters were sharing online articles that fit their political beliefs, which created a distrust of both legitimate news providers and fraudulent ones.
David Williams, news director of KCBD-TV in Lubbock, said that he believes the biggest issue with ‘fake news’ is the distrust it creates.
“This is true whether we’re referencing the phrase ‘fake news’ or actual false content,” William said. “When people simply say something is ‘fake news,’ it can hurt the credibility of the content provider, even if the content is accurate. When the content is truly false, it hurts the credibility of legitimate news providers, which I think is often the intent.”
According to an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them. Also, the most discussed fake news stories tended to favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, which led a number of commentators to suggest that Donald Trump would not have been elected president were it not for the influence of fake news.”
FactCheck.org reported that President Trump often dismisses news stories or media outlets that he doesn’t like as “fake news.” This is creating even more distrust in the media.
“We should all have a problem with so-called ‘fake news’, if it’s truly false content,” explained Williams. “I worry that many across our country now use the phrase ‘fake news’ to discount information they don’t like, even if it’s true.”
But bad information surrounding politics isn’t a new thing.
“I believe this has been an ongoing problem,” Williams adds. “However, so called ‘fake news’ is certainly increasing at a rapid rate, due to social media. Anyone can share anything these days.”
According to an article on PolitiFact, before “fake news” there were message boards where people would share their conspiracy theories and emails instructing others to forward the message. Even before computers, there were pamphlets and chain letters spread through the mail.
PolitiFact also reported that in 2016, most of the “fake news” stories were shared on Facebook. They were reinforced by Google searches, where stories from suspect sites would jump to the top of a news feed based on traffic. These sites would create fictitious headlines that people couldn’t help sharing.
Buzzfeed analyzed the interest in these stories and found that during the final months of the election, these fake stories got more shares and comments than real stories from sources such as the New York Times and CNN.
With 1.79 billion people around the world using Facebook each month, Facebook’s influence towers over other online platforms. After the 2012 election, Facebook, hoping to encourage people to be better informed, introduced new tools aimed at helping users read and share more news stories. But Facebook’s technology and good intentions were used as fuel to the rise of “fake news” in 2016, according to PolitiFact.