Stanford report examines fake news in the 2016 US election

Fake news has less impact than previously thought according to a report by economists Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford, on “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election“.

Clinton Fake News

Evidence shows that:

  • 62 percent of US adults get news on social media according to a Pew study
  • fake news stories were shared more widely on Facebook than other news stories
  • many people believe fake news stories to be true
  • the most discussed fake news stories favoured Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton

Putting these points together, many have suggested that Donald Trump wouldn’t have won if it had not have been for the spread of those fake news stories on social media.

In the paper Allcott and Gentzkow present new evidence on the influence of fake news on social media. While many people use social media as a source of news only 14 percent relied on social media as their main source, making social media important but not dominant. Television, it turns out, remains the go-to place for political news.

For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news story would need to have convinced about 0.7 percent of Clinton and non-voters who saw it to shift their votes to Trump, a persuasion rate equivalent to seeing 36 television campaign ads,”

They conclude that it is very reasonable to say that based on their set of facts, it is unlikely that fake news swayed the election.

You can access the full report here.

Publishers fight their fake news their own ways

Facebook integrated fact-checking into its publication process and changes its freed to promote posts that aren’t fake, sensational, or spam. With a change in their algorithm Google will no longer allow advertising served by them to be displayed on sites that spread fraudulent news.

Many publishers follow suit. The Washington Post is hiring new investigative reporters to keep up with fact-checking the Trump administration and emphasises their role as a watchdog to regain people’s trust in media.

Quality of journalism

Spanish daily El Pais has also geared up by hiring new fact-checking journalists. María Ramírez, political reporter at Univision Communications claims that each country has its own brand of fake news and that Spain’s problem was mostly weak reporting due to limited investments in journalism in the past years.

Improving on journalism is also a big topic for BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith who advocates for more support for objective, accurate reporting as a way to counterbalance the fake news creeping its way across social media feeds.

Build on trustTruth Facts Times

With continuous attacks from politicians and trust for media at its lowest, honest reporting has become more important than ever. The New York Times has a strong focus to build trust with their readers and new subscribers. This is clear in their actions of concentrating on investigative reporting; gearing up their Washington office with more journalists; as well as their marketing efforts.

With the Times adding hundred thousand of subscribers each quarter we see the success that lies behind “real” journalism and that good reporting pays off. The “failing New York Times” is doing something right.