Election 2016

The Fake News Election

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

We may typically think of Fox News as "fake" news but, in the realm of misinformation, Fox News is facing competition from websites that literally make shit up.

Fox News is known for willfully misrepresenting or misinterpreting the news to their audience, but a completely-fake news economy emerged during this election cycle that is only just now being confronted after it's already too late.

Buzzfeed reported last week that fake news actually outperformed real news on Facebook during the final months of the 2016 election.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Among the most popular fake news stories were stories on Pope Francis endorsing Trump and Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS. Obviously, neither of those events actually occured.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg previously downplayed the prevalence and impact of fake news, but he reversed course last week when the company announced that it will withhold revenue from hoax news sites. And that's the key, because this wouldn't be as big of a problem as it is if there weren't a market for it.

Many of the owners and operators of fake news sites that emerged during this election cycle aren't even American. Some are foreign teenagers who don't believe their own stories.

There are many reasons why I do not use Facebook, most of them personal, but this is another reason. I understand that Facebook was once a convenient way for friends and family members to stay in touch with each other, and maybe it still is for a decreasing number of people, but it's also a source of toxic vitriol and bullshit stories like those mentioned above. As far as I'm concerned, Facebook is the sewer of society and, unfortunately, it has become a primary news source for a distressing number of people.

That is the intended design of Facebook. They want users to use the platform for virtually everything including the news, and some enterprising kids in other countries figured out a way to make lots of money off stupid Americans by flooding the platform with fake news.

  • Aynwrong

    Chris Hayes did a piece on this immediately after the election and pointed out that the profitability of fake news stories that lent to the left or told liberals what they wanted to hear just wasn’t there. It was only found on the Right. Which should come as a shock to no one. Fox News & AM talk radio has primed American conservatives to believe complete and total nonsense for decades. I take some pride in knowing that liberals didn’t fall anywhere near as heavily for this. It’s not very comforting though.


    Welcome back JM.

  • I used to crosspost my blog on FB but stopped once it riled up too many of my family and friends. For the sake of peace, I only use it for connecting with them socially and I avoid politics like the plague. It is still tough not to get drawn in sometimes, but I find reading the stuff posted by my more politically correct relatives to be incredibly depressing. Unfortunately for me, I am very isolated and have few other means of connecting with my friends and family.

    • Scopedog

      Same here, IrishGrrl. I avoided FB for years but decided to sign up after a hospital stay last year. I pretty much use it only to connect with family and friends and showcase my art–but yeah, I try like hell to stay out of politics, but man…when you see some of the crap posted there, especially by those who huff and puff about “blowing up the system” and some of the misogynist s**t that flew during the election…yeah, it was very hard for me to not post something harsh.

  • swift_4

    Welcome back.

    They talked about social media helping Obama. But we need to start teaching kids about bias. Not just external bias in web sites, but internal bias that affects us all. And we need to be teaching them how to analyze information. Step one should be “Is this bullshit?”

    I say we should teach the kids because we all know that our mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles will believe any stupid shit they read on the internet and blast it out to all their friends.

    • JMAshby

      I think the bigger problem is nihilism. Can you teach people to identify bias if they simply don’t care?

      • MadJuana

        Welcome back, JM.
        People don’t want to think about what’s bullshit and what’s not. It’s too much like “Work!” (as Maynard G. Krebs would say). And yes, they don’t care, either. On top of that is the scary prospect of possibly catching a glimpse at their own confirmation biases. Nah…. Just kiddin’.

      • Scopedog

        I think the bigger problem is nihilism.

        Agreed, Ashby. And the sad fact is seeing it coming from those who love to brag about how much leftier-than-thou they are. These were the ones blaring out how Hillary was worse than Trump, how it didn’t matter who was in charge, and also how “the system” needed to be crashed and that Trump would do it; Hillary was “status quo”. Lost in their ravings are concerns for those who would be greatly affected–in the wrong way–by Trump and the GOP.

      • swift_4

        Can’t teach a nihilist anything. Like addicts, they have to hit rock bottom before they can change.

    • ninjaf

      I would be happy if we could teach and encourage critical thinking. That would go a long way.

  • mnpollio

    Are we absolutely positive that Fox News did not get many of their stories from one of those fake news websites. It would explain a lot.

    • Christopher Foxx

      Are we absolutely positive that Fox News did not get many of their stories from one of those fake news websites

      You mean Fox got stories from places that WEREN’T those fake sites???