How Much Did Fake News Contribute to Trump’s Election Win?

fake-news-trumpMost couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing at least one fake news story in their news stream, and reporting them did little to stop its destructive viral path.

Facebook and Twitter announced with much fanfare in September that they were joining a group of news and technology companies to combat fake news.  But fake news spread prolifically during this campaign cycle, particularly on Facebook, making many believe what role fake news had in the stunning upset in the US elections which saw Donald Trump elected as the next president.

The Denver Post wrote an excellent expose highlighting the issue when a fake news story from “The Denver Guardian” began doing the rounds, with 450,000+ shares causing some to believe it was actually coming from the Denver Post.

But this was far from an isolated case – a search shows multiple other fake news sites, all promoting these fake news stories.  But as these fake stories were shared by those who either didn’t know the story was fake, or just didn’t care, it resulted in skewing perception for those who might read the headline, believe it was a legitimate news source.

The influence of fake news has become such an issue that Barack Obama publicly commented on it during a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The way campaigns have unfolded, we just start accepting crazy stuff as normal and people if they just repeat attacks enough and outright lies over and over again. As long as it’s on Facebook, and people can see it, as long as its on social media, people start believing it, and it creates this dust cloud of nonsense.

Facebook famously got rid of their human editors, which while sometimes skewed Democrat in their coverage, the loss of these meant that fake news stories had no internal checks at Facebook before they became a trending topic.  In fact, it took a mere 3 days for Facebook to trend fake news once those editors were removed.

The Intersect at Washington Post did an experiment where they tracked trending stories hourly, and the results were disappointing to say the least.  But when this is coupled with an election season where one of the candidates – er, Presidential elect – is spouting lies at an alarming degree and has in fact made “fact checking great again.”

Other news sources have also exposed the problem.  For example, BuzzFeed found 140 fake news sites posting pro-Trump content, of which most was very misleading.

Vox was much more blunt about it, calling on Mark Zuckerberg with the headline “Facebook is harming our democracy, and Mark Zuckerberg needs to do something about it.”  Yet it seems to have had little effect.

Supposedly, you can report fake news stories on Facebook, yet it is evident that it did little to stop the viral nature of these clickbait stories.


However, it seemed to have little effect this election season.

Vox noted that it seemed there wasn’t as many fake news stories about Trump as there were about Clinton.  Why? Because “for the most part, liberals don’t have to make things up about Trump because his actual words and actions are outrageous enough.”

As we have seen, journalists took many opportunities to point out both the problem of fake news and reporting – and debunking – the many inaccuracies of these viral stories. Yet fake news abounds.  Fake news will continue to be an issue going forward, and Facebook will continue to be the major source of it, at least until Facebook takes a bigger stand against it.

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Jennifer Slegg is a news journalist in the tech space. She is the Founder & Editor of The SEM Post. Jen is also a regular speaker at industry tech and marketing conferences internationally.

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