Fake news collected “Like” over Presidential election; Who benefitted most?

Donald Trump overturned the inferior expectations and had a historical victory. In California where most of residents support democratic party, people gave voices of grief for the uncertain future, and anti-Trump demonstrations occurred throughout the United States.

American journalists who study as fellows in John S. Knight journalism program got disappointed and uniformly dropped a shoulder on grief.

“What on earth have we worked for? Have we failed to deliver information for voters to better understand the world around them?”

In the end of the election campaign, the major media outlets of the United States stuck Clinton by putting a label of “liars” on Trump, but in the end, they were not able to break the wall built by Trump.

More than anything, they face the hard reality that they had not listened to the half of America’s voice as they had believed that “There must be no President Trump”.

Expansion of Fake news

Another major debate has arisen over the presidential election after the victory of Trump. It’s the “fake news” circulating on Facebook, the world’s largest social media. It has been criticized that Facebook has allowed fake news shared with users to spread and it made a difference on the final election result.

During the election campaign, there were a lot of fake news on Facebook that supported Trump and Clinton. Above all, the fake news on Trump was remarkably mass-produced, shared, and scattered without stopping.

Two days after voting, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, dismissed criticism as saying “I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — of which it’s a very small amount of the content — influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,”.

What on earth was fake news spread on Facebook?

WTOE 5 NEWS is now closed.

The typical example is the article “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” posted on the news site WTOE 5 News.

Starting with this article published in July 2016, the news that “Pope Francis expressed support of Mr. Trump” circulated.

No way! — I looked at it twice, and of course, this is not a fact. In February, the Pope was criticizing Trump who galvanized to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

Next is an article titled “FBI Agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide” by Denver Guardian.

A post from Denver Guardian and it is also closed now.

It is a headline that you are almost tricked to click, but it is fake news that denigrate Clinton.

Just before the voting day, this news was made based on the fact that FBI had reopened Clinton probe, that she used private email account while she was in a role of Secretary of State.

The source is “Denver Guardian”. It sounds real legitimate source mixed with daily newspaper “Denver Post” in Colorado and “Guardian”, the prestigious news paper in UK, however, it is totally untrue fake news.

How has this news influenced the election?

The impact has been analyzed, yet according to the online media “Buzz Feed”, fake news on Facebook was shared and earned more “Like” than any other news from main media outlets for three months until the election. This indicates that fake news left deeper impact on conscious of voters.

When comparing the top 20 most popular articles each from fake news sites and from main media, fake articles gained a total of 8 million 710,000 shares and “Likes”, far more exceeding 7 million 367,000 major media gained.

Macedonian student groups earning with fake news

Surprisingly, it was revealed that there is country that mass-produce fake news. It is the Republic of Macedonia located in the western part of the Balkans.

According to a research of Buzz Feed, two of the top 20 fake news were produced in Macedonia and more than 140 fake sites regarding political issues in the US were made in the country.

Why did this small country in Europe become the hot stage on this issue? The answer is money. It is because fake news site can generate ad revenue by clicks.

One college student who created the site says, “Because students can not work, we started to earn pocket money.” According to Buzz Feed ‘s interview, he made news which strongly support Trump, gave sensational titles which get more attention from readers and gained more income by completely making up fake news sometimes. Some students earned USD5,000 per month or USD 3,000 in one day.

44% of adults in the US are now getting news from Facebook. In that sense, it is undeniably the nation’s largest media. However, the company’s CEO, Zuckerberg, stipulated itself as an IT company and had insisted not to be a media company. It can also be said that he has escaped from taking editorial responsibility for contents on the platform.

In the US, which places particular emphasis on freedom of speech, it makes sense that it is questionable for Facebook to “censor” everything. However, it is getting difficult to say that Facebook runs just a platform and is “not responsible for contents” any more.

Crackdown on fake news

On November 14, Google announced a policy that they will no longer allow fake news sites to use its ad-selling services. It is a measure to cut off the route to earn advertisement revenue illegally. On the same day, Facebook later announced that they will take the same measure, because the content falls in “illegal, misleading or deceptive” category. Although there is a reaction that it is too late to take step, it is mostly accepted favorably. However, the question remains: Should humans judge or should algorithms decide whether contents are “misunderstanding”? What kind of rules or policy should apply to each case?

An unusual post about making progress

“A lot of you have asked what we’re doing about misinformation, so I wanted to give an update.The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously.” November 18, Zuckerberg spelled this on his own timeline. He continued to report on the measures taken by the company and their progress on the issue. Proposals were strengthening their system so that users can “flag” on inappropriate contents and Facebook can catch it efficiently, or have third parties to fact-check and give warnings to those contents.

It is very rare for Zuckerberg himself to announce the progress of their pipelined projects. He emphasizes again their stance for the fake news issue. “We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.” he said in his Facebook post.

A post from Mark Zuckerberg on November 18

“Real news” demand boosted up by Fake news

The explosive flooding of fake news is a melancholic situation. However, there is also a view that this will result in demand for accurate news of major media as a result.

The following is a tweet by Trump on November 13.

New York Times immediately responded to that irrelevant criticism.

The Times said it saw a increase of 41,000 new subscribers in a week from the vote, calling it the largest subscription increase since the introduction of paywall in 2011.

Also, new subscribers of Wall Street Journal reached 4 times higher numbers the day after the election, and “ProPublica”, an American non-profit organization specialized in research reports, recorded 10 times more donations than the usual amount by the next day from the election.

Half of the Voice unheard in the US

The result of election sets a lot of challenges not only for social media but also for traditional media such as newspapers and TV stations.

Hillary becomes president — that should have been obvious in polls. Then, why has the media failed to listen to half of the Americans’ voice?

One reason is the structural change of media industry by digitalization. With the rise of the digital platform symbolized by Facebook, the position of traditional media, in particular the newspaper companies, has changed dramatically.

In the first place, there is no national newspaper in the United States. A number of local newspapers and regional papers exist in the states, cities, counties like the spider web and cover the whole country.

However, as new media arises along with digital innovation, the advertisement revenue of newspaper companies has decreased sharply. The number of newspapers, which was 1,730 papers in the United States in 1983, has shrunk to about 1400 papers in 2014. The number of reporters and editors has also been dramatically reduced accordingly.

In addition, reporters concentrate in three cities on the East and West coast where liberal voters live, New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. The reporters and editors who work in those three cities were one in eight in 2004, but in 2014 it became one in five people, the concentration had got higher. On the other hand or because of all reasons, “blank areas”, which are not reported with fewer reporters and editors, have emerged.

An American reporter of my friends from Alaska says, “If there are no reporters living down there, it will be impossible to hear the voice of rural people such as from the Midwest and the Southwest. It is just impossible for reporters to fly to rural cities from coastal cities, staying there for a couple of days and quickly understanding what people living there are thinking.”

The issues surrounding media industry are actively discussed all over the United States, including here at Stanford University I currently belong to. One of the biggest challenges is how we journalist and individual persons to connect this deep division. There is a long way to work on to find a better solution.

*This article got published in “COURRiER JAPON”, a Japanese magazine, on November 28, 2016.