Explainer: Fake news and the 2016 election

by Stephanie LeClair and CeLynn Siemons

(Photo: Google)

Fake news misinformed voters and possibly swung the 2016 presidential election.

Fake news was used in the election as deliberate propaganda to sway people’s opinions on current issues. 

Writers started creating the fake news because they would receive revenue off of it from ads and other sponsors. The general public does not know to check their sources before contributing to the spread of false or fake news, according to Politifact. One example was a fake news story that went viral that claimed Pope Francis endorsed Trump for the election. This was untrue according to FactCheck.

Fake articles commonly appeared on Facebook user’s newsfeed. With one click, users shared these lies with their ‘friends’ on multiple social media platforms. The most viral lies were found on Facebook. 1.79 billion people use Facebook making it one of the easiest ways to have things go viral and spread false information. This has caused a large debate on whether fake news on social media swung the election.

On some accounts the fake stories on Facebook overwhelmed the real ones and were more publicized by society, according to Business Insider. “The popular website BuzzFeed analyzed the interest in these fake stories and found that they got more shares, reactions and comments during the final three months of the campaign than real stories from the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, for example,” reported Politifact.

Eye catching headlines caught readers attention while scrolling through their social media. People are attracted to what they want to hear, causing them to be more drawn to bias articles.

Politifact claims Trump has one of the worst records to date with almost 70 percent of his claims rated mostly false or false. With this record and Clinton’s widely debated email scandal the public viewed both of the politicians to be untrustworthy. This led the people to further believe the fake information being spread.

Since the election, Facebook has been cracking down on content that is posted due to the rise of fake news that possibly hindered the outcome of the election. They have since been monitoring all content that is being posted.

Many different scandals and hoaxes surrounded the election, including the Pizzagate scandal and an “Anti-Trump” protest in Austin Texas.

Pizzagate was fake news that went viral, stating Hillary Clinton’s emails referred to human trafficking and a child sex-ring in several connected restaurants. One man entered the restaurant with a gun to investigate the conspiracy on his own. The information was so loosely connected, it was discredited by many organizations and government officials.

Another case of viral false news rose from a protest in Austin, Texas when a citizen snapped pictures of a line of buses and claimed that Democrats had bussed in outside protestors. He posted the pictures on Twitter and described how the Democrats were ‘inorganic’ by using these company buses to transport themselves into the city.

Later in the day, the bus company was contacted about the scandal to determine if the story was credible, according to The New York Times. The director of corporate affairs for the bus company Coach USA North America, stated, “I just kind of wish people looked into facts before they go ahead and do something like that, because it could be easily debunked based on a quick phone call or two, or a couple emails.”

Citizens are quick to react and share information that is not only harmful to individuals or companies but they are contributing to the misinformed decisions people are basing their voting decisions on.

At Bates College, orange colored fliers were posted in their cafeteria as well as around their dorm buildings, according to the Bangor Daily News. The fliers were posted to tell the students incorrect information about how to vote. They told students that they needed to pay to have their driver’s licenses changed to the town of Lewiston, Maine within the next 30 days. The fliers also told students to do other false things in order to vote.

People believe that these fliers were posted to stop Bates students from voting in the election. “The false information contained in these fliers is a deliberate attempt to suppress the millennial vote,” said the Maine Democratic Party Leader, Phil Bartlett. The fliers were taken down the next day.

Spreading false information about the election not only occurs online but in person as well. People will spread fake news in order to get more people to vote for who they want them to vote for.

With the rise of social media in our society, there will be a continuous battle between truth and falsehood during times of opinionated decisions. Facebook has taken a step forward in removing false information and attempting to educate the public with only truthful material but other platforms of technology have not yet reached that level.

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