Have you seen the Donald Trump feature in a 1998 issue of People? In the piece, the President-elect supposedly commented that if he ever ran for president, he’d do it as a Republican because “they are the dumbest group of voters in the country.”
It turns out that interview is completely bogus, and it’s just one of the many fake headlines and stories that made their rounds on social media during the 2016 election. Others that made the rounds included a headline alleging Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president (he hadn’t) and that an FBI agent who was supposed to testify against Hillary Clinton was found dead in his apartment (which never happened).
In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, many are wondering whether the proliferation of fake news stories may have swayed the election in Trump’s favor. Facebook recently came under fire for failing to filter out fake or embellished news stories such as the People Magazine interview from 1998.. Since then, Facebook has not only said it would address the issue but has even come forward with a plan to harness the power of users to flag false or fake content and to go after the purveyors of fake news where it hurts most: their wallets. Google has also said it would ban fake news sites and the people that run them from using Google’s advertising service.
While it’s unclear exactly how big an impact fake news may have had on the election’s outcome, a Buzzfeed News analysis showed that the top fake election news stories generated more engagement on social media than did the top 19 stories from reputable sources combined.
Did the selectivity of its newsfeed sway the presidential election by shaping opinion in its online communities? Should Facebook and other social media platforms be held accountable as publishing companies, as opposed to mere tech entities, in order to evaluate their impact on users’ political views?