An analysis by BuzzFeed News found that during the 2016 election, fake news stories generated more engagement on Facebook than did the top election articles from major news outlets.
BuzzFeed’s analysis comes amid growing criticism of Facebook’s lack of effective action against fake news. It was recently revealed that Facebook shelved plans to combat the epidemic of fake news stories due to fear of backlash from conservatives because the move would have “disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds.”
That fear of conservative backlash resulted in further fake news stories, which then generated “more engagement” on Facebook than did “the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,” a Buzzfeed analysis has found:
In the final three months of the 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, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.
During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.
Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.
This new data illustrates the power of fake election news on Facebook, and comes as the social network deals with criticism that it allowed false content to run rampant during the 2016 presidential campaign. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently it was “a pretty crazy idea” to suggest that fake news on Facebook helped sway the election. He later published a post saying, “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here.”
Amid this criticism, The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey interviewed Paul Horner, a “38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire.” Horner described the rise of fake news in 2016 and said the Trump campaign even helped push it:
You’ve been writing fake news for a while now — you’re kind of like the OG Facebook news hoaxer. Well, I’d call it hoaxing or fake news. You’d call it parody or satire. How is that scene different now than it was three or five years ago? Why did something like your story about Obama invalidating the election results (almost 250,000 Facebook shares, as of this writing) go so viral?
Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?
My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.
(Twitter via Mediaite)
Why? I mean — why would you even write that?
Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.
I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].
The entire interview is worth reading.
It’s clear now that Facebook must take concrete steps to combat fake news -- regardless of the conservative or liberal criticism the company might face. Join Media Matters in asking Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to fix their fake news problem by signing our petition.