The country is concerned about how intentionally false and malicious media, known as fake news, may have influenced many voters in the 2016 elections. Enough, perhaps, to have swayed it in a certain direction.
Russia has been fingered by some as a major player in the peddling of fake news and its possible manipulation of our elections and, as such, our democracy. Citizens do not want to feel conned, especially by a foreign power. And as fake news, regardless of its source, is primarily distributed and proliferated via the internet, social media users want to feel secure that platforms, such as Facebook, properly screen sources and postings for credibility and accuracy. No one wants to be bamboozled.
Oddly enough, there isn’t much, if any, disagreement between the losing and winning sides of the election as to the preponderance of fake news during the last cycle. Where they disagree is to the amount of influence fake news essentially had on the outcome of the last election, if any at all. Did fake news substantially influence the 2016 elections?
Proponents, those who believe the election results were substantively influenced by fake news, such as supporters of the losing sides, were shocked over the surprising election results. Certain of the polls and predictions which concluded that the victorious outcome of the election would be handed to the democrats, the would-be losers are now at a quandary as to how exactly things didn’t end up quite as expected. Several credit the ubiquity of fake news and its effect on susceptible swing voters as the primary rationale the election went the way it did.
Supporters of the winning side of the election, the opponents, such as Trump backers and Republicans, as well as mouthpieces for the Russian government (such as the RT news service), acknowledge the presence of fake news during the election, but doubt it had so great an influence on the electorate that it derailed what the losers felt was an obvious outcome in their favor. They believe that the other side’s incompetence and inability to accurately gauge the true concerns of voters, especially those in the economically troubled swing states, are principally what set in motion Trump’s victory and their defeat.
Proponents feel cheated and that they are victims of a concerted effort to intentionally denigrate and slander their candidate(s) with a barrage of negative memes and inflammatory fake news specifically targeted at susceptible and swing voters.
Opponents trust that their acute understanding of the true needs of the voters is what garnered their winning edge. Proponents, they insist, are simply sore losers, complaining about the sour grapes.
Pundits for both sides of the question have presented credible evidence to support their views. Joe Concha, writer for the conservative publication, The Hill, tells us that although fake news favorable to Trump far outnumbered that favorable to Clinton, it actually had no considerable effect on the voters. Citing a recent research study by Stanford and New York Universities, Concha claims study data shows that a significantly large number of voters did not look to social media, the chief vehicle for fake news dissemination, as a source for election news. And those who may were far less persuaded by the content. Not enough voters were manipulated by fake news enough to be of any significance. Russian mouthpiece, RT.com, cites the same study to back up its position that fake news had no effect on the election outcome.
Recently, however, Gabe O’Connor and Avie Schneider, in an article for NPR reporting on Clint Watts’ March 30th Senate Intelligence Committee testimony, tell us that Watts “described how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans.” Tal Kopan, from CNN, cites the same testimony describing “a sophisticated Russian propaganda machine that specifically sought to bolster and influence President Donald Trump.”
Proponents frame the issue as a deliberate, and ultimately successful, endeavor to disparage one candidate (Clinton), turn voters against her and give the victory to Trump. An effort assisted in great detail with the help of the Russian government. On the other hand, proponents cite studies from credible researchers which support their idea that fake news, regardless of its origin, had little to do with the outcome of the election.
As most of us already know, fake news was nearly everywhere last election cycle. And if it actually had a substantial influence on this last election, then the very fabric of our free elections and democracy are at stake. However, if fake news is essentially more of an annoyance and less of a threat, it may affect voters’ belief in any, and potentially all, news source media and people may no longer care about what is truthful and what is not.