In the last months of the 2016 US presidential election campaign, fake content on Facebook skyrocketed. 17 of the top 20 fake stories were either pro-Trump or anti-Clinton. “Two of the biggest false hits were a story claiming Clinton sold weapons to ISIS [see example] and a hoax claiming the pope endorsed Trump”.
Fake content was propagated for various reasons including political, economic (making money from click bait) or for their own amusement. In this way Facebook was used "to turn fake stories into viral sensations… With its huge reach, Facebook has begun to act as the great disseminator of the larger cloud of misinformation and half-truths swirling about the rest of media. It sucks up lies from cable news and Twitter, then precisely targets each lie to [audiences] most receptive to it.”
These false or misleading stories that “play to partisan biases” generate the most shares and reactions, far more than mainstream political pages, because they tell people what they want to hear and urge their followers to respond by clicking on the links, sharing the stories and expressing their outrage. They encourage division and polarisation, as well as generating “massive Facebook engagement”. The more that people share and engage with these stories, the more that Facebook will include them in its Newsfeeds and similar ones in those people’s newsfeeds, and the more that people click on the links, the more the corresponding websites, as well as similar websites, will show up in their Google searches.
An analysis by BuzzFeed found that in the final three months of the 2016 US presidential campaign, "the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others". During this time the "20 top performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook" (see graph).
The website Ending the Fed, which was set up in March 2016, published four of the top 20 fake news stories that received almost 3 million Facebook engagements in the three months before the election; “according to BuzzFeed News' analysis, its top election content received more Facebook engagement than stories from the Washington Post and New York Times.”
Reference: Craig Silverman. ‘Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False and Misleading Information at an Alarming Rate.' BuzzFeed 21 October 2016.
During the period analyzed, right-wing pages, for example, pushed a conspiracy theory about a Hillary Clinton body double, recirculated an old and false story about a Canadian mayor lecturing Muslim immigrants about integration, wrongly claimed that Obama's last address at the UN saw him tell Americans they needed to give up their freedom for a "New World Government," and falsely claimed that a football player had been told not to pray by the NFL.Reference: Craig Silverman. ‘Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False and Misleading Information at an Alarming Rate.' BuzzFeed 21 October 2016.
Left-wing pages wrongly claimed Putin's online troll factory was responsible for rigging online polls to show Trump won the first debate, falsely said that Trump wants to expel all Muslims from the US and said US women in the military should expect to be raped, claimed that TV networks would "not be fact-checking Donald Trump in any way" at the first debate, and completely misrepresented a quote from the pope to claim that he "flat out called Fox News type journalism 'terrorism.'"
© 2017 Sharon Beder