Missing From The Fake News Debate: Evidence It Had Any Impact
As 2016 draws to a close, the ongoing debate regarding “fake news” has pressed forward, but notably absent from the debate is any evidence that “fake news” impacted voters’ decisions on whom to vote for in last month’s election.
Less than two weeks after the election, PBS aired a segment titled: “How online hoaxes and fake news played a role in this election,” which featured BuzzFeed writer Craig Silverman. (RELATED: Journalists Struggle To Define ‘Fake News’ Even As They Declare War On It)
The segment leaned heavily on a BuzzFeed “study” that purportedly showed that the top 20 “fake news” election stories outperformed the top 20 “real” election stories on Facebook.
PolitiFact used that same BuzzFeed story in naming “fake news” the “Lie of the Year” two weeks ago. The left-leaning fact-checking site gives the annual award to “a misrepresentation that arguably beats all others in its impact or ridiculousness.”
Putting aside the fact that BuzzFeed was accused of using suspect methodology to fit a narrative, and putting aside the fact that Facebook has since discredited the data upon which BuzzFeed relied for the study, the findings still didn’t show that fake news had any impact on the way people voted last November. Silverman did not return a request for comment from TheDC by press time. (RELATED: CNN President Says BuzzFeed Not ‘Legitimate’ News Organization)
Earlier this month, MSNBC’s Brian Williams claimed that “fake news played a role in this election.” But Williams, who lost his job for fabricating stories, offered no evidence other than noting that pro-Trump website Breitbart was a common source for stories shared by Trump. Breitbart is often defined as “right-wing” and was arguably the biggest media promoter of Trump’s candidacy, but isn’t a “fake news” site.
Vanity Fair ran a piece titled, “Did Russian Agents Influence The Election With Fake News?” late last month. But that article was based on a Washington Post article that relied on since-debunked experts. That article now includes a length editor’s note saying the Post “does not itself vouch for the validity” of the data upon which its article was built. Even before the Post walked back the article, the piece did not provide any evidence that fake news changed the outcome of the election. (RELATED: WaPo Admits A Key Part Of Its ‘Fake News’ Expose Might Be Fake)
The Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote a piece titled, “Click and elect: how fake news helped Donald Trump win a real election.” But Parkinson offered no hard facts to back up her claim other than noting that Facebook helped two million people register to vote.
Facebook executives have pushed back hard against the notion that fake news had any impact on the election. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, both of whom are liberal, have said that fake news did not affect the election’s outcome. (RELATED: Leaked Emails Show Facebook Exec Shared Research With Clinton Campaign)
As originally reported by TheDC, the data actually shows that “fake news” struggles to actually reach — much less convince — any kind of audience.
But that hasn’t kept The New York Times and other top liberal news sources from advancing a narrative in which fake news plays a real role in U.S. politics. (RELATED: NYT Devotes Front-Page Coverage To Irrelevant Fake News Site)