The fake news about 'fake news' and the 2016 election

Becket Adams:
The list of things Hillary Clinton blames for losing the 2016 presidential election is long.

She blames the Russians. She blames the FBI. She blames the electoral college. She blames systemic sexism. She blames the coverage of her campaign. She blames alleged voter suppression tactics. She blames the voters. She even blames “fake news” for allegedly turning the electorate against her.

The former secretary of state may have to retire at least one of those excuses now that researches have determined intentionally false “news” reporting has little actual impact on readers.

“One in four Americans saw at least one false story, but even the most eager fake-news readers — deeply conservative supporters of President Trump — consumed far more of the real kind, from newspaper and network websites and other digital sources,” the New York Times’ Benedict Carey reported, citing a study titled, “Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.”

To be clear, researchers found that fake news’ reach is wide. They also found that it skews mostly in President Trump’s favor, and that it’s consumed mostly by self-identified conservatives. However, as Carey put it, fake news’ reach is pretty shallow.

Microsoft’s Duncan Watts has long argued that fake news had little, if any, impact on how people voted in the 2016 election.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about the effect of fake news and a lot of numbers thrown around out of context, which get people exercised,” Watts told the Times. “What’s nice about this paper is that it focuses on the actual consumers themselves.”

Interestingly enough, researchers found that fake stories accounted for only a small percentage of readers’ overall news consumption. For pro-Clinton readers, the fake stuff accounted for only one percent of their total news consumption. Pro-Trump readers on average took in about 6 percent of false reporting. These same users were also about three times more likely to visit fake news sites supporting Trump than pro-Clinton users were to visit phony sites promoting her.
I think the claims that the false reports had an effect on the outcome of the election are just wrong.  I tend to stay with sites I see as mainstream, be they conservative or liberal.  I can tell you that fake news had no impact on my vote against Hillary Clinton. 

There was enough news about her incompetence and mishandling of classified material in the NY Times and Washington Post to make it clear to me that she was not a viable alternative to Trump who I reluctantly supported.   While those media outlets may have tried to downplay her wrongdoing, that part of their content was not persuasive.

To suggest that "fake news" had a material effect on those voting against Hillary Clinton is an insult to the intelligence of voters.


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