We all saw the stupid memes and articles that were outright lies, but it seemed as though no matter what we did to counter them, they just flooded Facebook and Twitter. These articles were the real "fake news" of the election.
It turns out they dominated social media as well, according to a new report from Buzzfeed.
Of the 20 top-performing false election stories identified in the analysis, all but three were overtly pro-Donald Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton. Two of the biggest false hits were a story claiming Clinton sold weapons to ISIS and a hoax claiming the pope endorsed Trump. The only viral false stories during the final three months that were arguably against Trump’s interests were a false quote from Mike Pence about Michelle Obama, a false report that Ireland was accepting American “refugees” fleeing Trump, and a hoax claiming RuPaul said he was groped by Trump.
Fake news stories making the rounds included one claiming Pope Francis had endorsed Trump, another claiming Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS, still another claiming she had an email exchange with ISIS leaders, and allegations that an FBI agent involved in her email investigation was dead in a murder-suicide.
Of the mainstream stories gaining the most engagement three months ahead of the election, one played up Melania Trump's nude photos and the others were mostly positive stories about Hillary Clinton.
This also follows the trend in mainstream publications, where most stories about Clinton were negative and most Trump stories were not.
Unsurprisingly, right wing sites with little accountability were responsible for some of the most viral content. One post farm in Macedonia was especially successful, but EndingtheFed.com was equally so.
One example is the remarkably successful, utterly untrustworthy site Ending the Fed. It was responsible for four of the top 10 false election stories identified in the analysis: Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, Hillary Clinton being disqualified from holding federal office, and the FBI director receiving millions from the Clinton Foundation. These four stories racked up a total of roughly 2,953,000 Facebook engagements in the three months leading up to Election Day.
Ending the Fed gained notoriety in August when Facebook promoted its story about Megyn Kelly being fired by Fox News as a top trending item. The strong engagement the site has seen on Facebook may help explain how one of its stories was featured in the Trending box.
When seen in this context, it is all the more odious that an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication would deign to add Crooks and Liars to a list that included Breitbart and Ending the Fed. As I explained to that professor yesterday in a strongly-worded email, we include video documentation of what we are writing about, along with at least a partial transcript. Our reputation has been impeccable.
After Professor Zimdars published her list of "fake news sites" listing C&L as one of them, the list went viral just as fast as one of those fake news stories listed above. It was astonishing how many times I was contacted behind the scenes about C&L's inclusion, and even more astonishing to see how many people shared it publicly!
This is the heart of the problem right here. Zimdars herself created fake news in the guise of claiming to identify it.
Facebook and Twitter have some responsibility here, but honestly, people have to actually care about what they're reading and apply some critical thinking to it. Do we really want Big Algorithm deciding what news and opinion are acceptable for us to consume?
The Hill reports on one Paul Horner, a "fake news on Facebook" entrepreneur, who is now in deep regret over his role in the Trump election. The thing is, he underestimated how gullible and stubborn Trump supporters are:
Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].”
Horner said that he has been surprised at how popular his articles were.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber,” he said when asked why business was so good for him this year. “They just keep passing stuff around.”
“Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected,” Horner continued. “He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it."