Fake News Helped Trump Win
There have been no other presidential elections in the U.S. that are parallel to the one we have experienced this year. This has been the most divisive election campaign, with less talk on policy and more on personality, sinking to low levels from both the Trump and Clinton campaign to gain some extra votes. Whilst personality played an integral component in the events of the election instead of policy, that policy was built upon facts, actual statistics and plans for the Clinton campaign, whilst Trump’s supporters blatantly denied such information given by fact checkers and other reliable sources. These issues did not exist in the 2012 election, arguably also an election that took place during the social media era, but not in its final form. Trust in mainstream media is declining steadily now, with the divide between liberal and right winged media clearer than ever. People use social media sources like Facebook and Twitter to get their news. A study claims that 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook. Fake, extremely biased and unreliable news sources have been on the rise. Fake reports such as Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump and fake police shootings in cities of swing states have been causing unmatched influence for this type of issue, with the former being shared over one million times on Facebook. This distribution of false information causes many threats for how we interpret our news sources and what we can or cannot believe. Twitter has provided a platform for Trump and his supporters to create a cartel of false information, and Facebook acts as another distributor of these fake facts, and Google can be also accused of some of these issues, but they have been the most active in ensuring information is factual.
Censorship is a complicated issue when the prevention of false information is a factor.
Facebook has been under the most fire for issues regarding fake news, and have denied the issue the most out of any social media outlet. Mark Zuckerberg said at a conference that:
“the idea fake news on Facebook… influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea”
This statement is incredibly naive on Zuckerberg’s part, both the reliance on Facebook for news and the prevalence of fake news both add to a negative impact on the user. Facebook has been under fire a number of times in the past for its policy on news feed headlines, previously relying on human editors to design headlines for users to see, but this has since been changed to an automated algorithm, removing bias from that respect in the process. Now the issue is targeted at the flood of fake news. Facebook certainly has the resources available to at least attempt to reduce the amount of fake news on the social network. Additionally, it’s recently been revealed that Facebook had an algorithm in place to get rid of these fake articles, but they were concerned that there would be backlash like the previous human curated parts of the network. Censorship is a complicated issue when the prevention of false information is a factor. Pushing forward and applying these proposed changes may have been the most appropriate action to take, but there would be no doubt that the right wingers would be furious at the change, it’s no surprise that there’s double the amount of right winged fake news websites than to the left. Lying is what the right does best. We may have been looking at a Clinton presidency if Facebook hadn’t been falsely manipulating the minds of voters for the length of the election campaign.
Google, on the other hand, has been more proactive regarding this concerning issue. Even before November 8th, during the presidential debates Google developed a new feature for search results and Google News to show fact checking websites as attributes to main articles. This is the type of action that Facebook should have taken as well. That isn’t to say that Google has done a perfect job, but Google is a strong supporter of an open web and anti-censorship concepts. Just recently Google announced that websites that provided fake news or misleading information would no longer receive advertising revenue from Google’s advertising network. This deals a huge blow to these fake news sites, as they are incredibly reliant on ad revenue in most cases to survive. Such an action is as good as removing fake news sites from search results (which would cause antitrust cases in places such as the European Union), as without ads they will eventually shrivel up and die without a form of income to keep them alive. Google is acting as a good role model for what Facebook and other social networks are doing, even if not everyone gets their news from Google. This is the type of change we need to see more of in the way information works. Google has massive power with its advertising network that acts as a monopoly over the internet, and if they can use it for good causes such as stopping fake news sites on both the left and right from expanding, our political climate may be a lot more accurate and trustworthy.
Technology corporations are continuing to gain very large amounts of control of the information we read and discover daily, and if we are to survive through the next four years and the election in 2020, we need better control over the reliability of sources.
This is part of my post-election series on the impacts, causes and possibilities of a Trump administration. Stay tuned for more opinion, right through to Inauguration.