Trump has taken advantage of the distrust in the establishment, and used his authority to validate fictional stories. With Trump’s support for misinformation, the fake news industry has found great success outshining real news and making its way to politicians’ Twitter feeds.
According to a Gallup poll, trust in media is at an all-time low. Thirty-two percent of Americans say that they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the media. And that number sinks lower when looking at the results by party. Only 14 percent of Republicans say they trust the media, and it is not because there is a Democrat in office. Republicans have consistently held less trust in the media but that has never sunk to these depths.
Blogs and other small online partisan publications like Occupy Democrats and The Political Insider harnessed this confidence – or lack there of – in the media and became more influential. A very common way for these blog articles to circulate is through social media. Pew conducted a poll that finds that 66 percent of Facebook users get their news from Facebook. Users therefore quickly become comfortable with seeing news on their timelines from blogs with more editorialized headlines. This ultimately opens the door for fake news to seep onto users’ Facebook feeds.
BuzzFeed conducted an analysis of the prevalence of fake news on Facebook and came to the conclusion that fake news outperformed real news by 1.4 million engagements. The headlines of the most viewed fake news articles about the election read, “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement,” and “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS… Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News.”
BuzzFeed did an additional analysis of nine different news organizations, a representative sample of mainstream media, left and right wing blogs. Each of the organizations has a blue verified check mark on their Facebook page for the added effect of credibility. Buzzfeed found that the mainstream media outlets stuck to the truth, while the partisan blogs were not consistent with the truth. However, the conservative websites had 18.6 percent more of their articles telling a mix of true and false information than the liberal websites.
Donald Trump is notorious for exaggeration and inflation. He has called global warming a hoax and said that Hillary Clinton has started the birther movement. In addition to his own lies, he and other politicians have tweeted out fake news articles. During the primary, Trump tweeted:
NEW POLL: Trump Blue Collar Support highest since FDR in 1930s–WOW! http://t.co/fnRIXJWCVf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2015
And this tweet is not his first citing. According to The Washington Post, there was no basis for this claim. Trump’s son, Eric, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, tweeted out a fake news article about Trump protesters being paid.
On top of that, Trump made Michael Flynn his national security advisor. According to Vox, Flynn is someone who believes in conspiracy theories and tweets out fake news.
U decide – NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc…MUST READ! https://t.co/O0bVJT3QDr
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) November 3, 2016
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
The perpetuation of lies is continuing into Trump’s presidency. The general hope was that Trump would appoint people to help him make informed decisions, but if people like Michael Flynn are looking to fake news articles to help Trump make decisions, that is concerning.
Donald Trump also made Steve Bannon a chief strategist and senior counselor in his administration. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right leaning news and commentary website. Breitbart was listed as a fake news site on a list of sites to watch out for made by Professor Zimdars at Merrimack College.
Most recently, Trump made up his own fake news.
I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2016
Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky – no Mexico
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2016
And according to The New York Times, the Ford manufacturing plant was never closing in the first place, only changing which type of car was being made there. Trump has the weight of the presidency behind his claims and there is no need for the article to reinforce his claim.
The articles create a vicious cycle: they look authoritative so people will believe them and political elites are authoritative so tweeting them just reinforces their validity. Together, they solidify ideas that people already held about Hillary Clinton and Muslims and now with this “proof,” their ideas become reality.
It is difficult to make Trump and his advisors stop referencing the fake news but there are ways as individuals to be more vigilant. As proven by the list compiled by Professor Zimdars and a section on PolitiFact’s website devoted to debunking fake news articles, work is already starting to be done.
After the attention fake news has received from President Obama as well as a fake news writer asserting that Trump got elected because of him, Mark Zuckerberg has reconsidered Facebook’s role in protecting readers from fake news. He announced, on November 18th, that Facebook will be looking into different ways to combat misinformation. This includes looking into a third-party fact checking systems to verify articles and featuring higher quality articles in the trending stories section. A group of college students created an article verification system already that would simply put the word “verified” or “not verified” on an article in a news feed.
Donald Trump has inspired an air of conspiracy, which has allowed fake news to become very confused with reality. It is more important now than ever that journalists are calling out the lies and misinformation that these articles and the future Trump administration will and are spreading. And, it’s equally important that Facebook steps up to the plate to combat the spread of fake news.