Economists from Stanford and New York University released a study showing that social media played a much, much smaller role in the election than some have thought.
The controversy over so-called “fake news” and its potential impact on the 2016 election has been among the fiercest in recent times. Leading some to go so far as to blame the Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss to US president Donald Trump on these false stories that went viral on Facebook. Clinton herself called fake news an “epidemic.”
The study found that, even though fake reports favoring Donald Trump exceeded those favoring Hillary Clinton, fake headlines did not have a major role in swaying the election. The study found that only 14 percent say they relied on Facebook and other social media sites as their most important source of election coverage.
The concrete data-driven information in the study shows that the impact of fake news has been exaggerated.
Though millions of fake news stories were shared on Facebook, people still get most of their news from TV and conventional news websites. “If you follow the public discussion, you might get the impression that a majority of Americans were getting most or a very large share of their news from social media.” Matthew Gentzkow, one of the authors of the study, told Vox. “Our results showed something pretty different.”
“A reader of our study could very reasonably say, based on our set of facts, that it is unlikely that fake news swayed the election,” said Gentzkow, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).
Since the 2016 election, Facebook has led the crusade against the so called “fake news”. The company is now prioritizing “authentic” content in News Feed with a ranking algorithm change that detects and promotes content “that people consider genuine, and not misleading, sensational, or spammy.” Last month it announced a slew of feature updates including partnerships with third-party fact checkers to add warning labels to fake news stories. Sometimes punishing legitimate news sources.
Critics say that the crusade on fake news is nothing more or less than an attempt for powerful sources to take control of the news that is allowed to be distributed on the internet and that the Facebook “Fake News” hysteria is just censorship.
The 2016 election isn’t the only time when technology has been seen as a threat to electoral politics. Both the advent of cheap newsprint and television were considered dangerous to American democracy.
Facebook did not return our request for comment on the study’s findings.