Fake news and the 2016 USA elections

Teresa Ambrosio
Sep 10 · 3 min read
photo credit: the indipendent.ie

The manipulation of mass media to influence political results is no news. A striking example is the use of the radio by the Nazi dictatorship to bombard and brainwash people with their nonsense. In the 2.0 generation, the interest shifted from traditional means of communication to social media. The alarming thing is that social media are available to anyone and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have no filter of whatsoever for checking facts and lack any editorial judgement.

The Knight foundation commissioned a study (1) to check the spread of fake news using Twitter. The study was led by Dr Hindman, professor of Politics and Communication at George Washington University. In this study, they found that more than 6.6 million tweets linking to fake and conspiracy news were published in the month before the 2016 election. (1) Another study (2) commissioned published on the Journal of Economic Perspective suggested that 38 million fake news was shared during the election period. This means that about 760 million users clicked through and read a fake news story, an average of about three stories per American adult a day. (2)

Who shared the fake news and who those accounts belonged to?

Scientists can’t be 100% sure about this, but it seems like that pro-Republican and pro-Donald Trump accounts promoted the spread of fake news in the month before the election and smaller but still substantial amounts of fake news were passed on by liberal or Democratic-identified accounts. However, after the election period, left-leaning fake news decreased much more than right-leaning fake news. (1) Another study focused on analysing 156 fake news spread among different platforms. 115 of these stories were the pro-Trump and shared 30 million times on Facebook. The remaining 41 fake stories were pro-Hillary and were shared 7.6 times on the same platform. (2) A study commissioned by the European Research Council (3) estimated that approximately 1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7 to November 14, 2016. Trump supporters visited fake news websites the most, which were overwhelmingly pro-Trump and Facebook was the main social media platform to share those piece of misinformation.

Who created the fake news?

Again, we don’t know for sure who spread all the lies but, after long searching, the National Public Radio, an American privately and publicly funded non-profit media organization based in Washington, tracked down the guy who owned loads of fake news websites and interviewed him. (4) He set up a WordPress website and started spreading trash for the only purpose of seeing what effect they had on people. He also earned up to $30000/m because the fake news went viral and the website got 1.6 million views a month during election time. “The era of fake news didn’t start with Trump. This is something that it’s been ongoing for a while in the USA” he says.

So if fake news has been going on for a while, why are we talking about this as such a big problem now?

His whole campaign (Trump’s) was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was (his supporters). He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat. We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off” says the creator of the biggest fake news website of our era!



  1. Matthew Hindman, Disinformation, Fake News and Influence Campaign on Twitter, 2018.
  2. Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, Journal of Economic Perspective, 2017, 31, 211.
  3. Andrew Guess, Brendan Nyhan, Jason ReiflerSelective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the2016 U.S. presidential campaign, 2018.
  4. http://drwho.virtadpt.net/files/2017-01/tracked-down-fake-news-creator.pdf
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