The morning of November 9, 2016 proved to be a “rude awakening” for Clinton supporters and the never-Trump coalition. Despite all the pollsters, predictors and pundits prophesizing a Clinton win last November, the Fates had a different outcome in mind and Trump won the election.
Even the pollsters’ pollster, Nate Silver and his fivethirtyeight.com website, got it wrong. They had estimated a 72% probability of Clinton winning the election on the morning voters went to the polls. By the end of the day, however, they had reversed their prediction and gave Trump an 84% chance of gaining the presidency.
Despite Clinton getting close to three million more votes than Trump, Trump won the Electoral College by turning three key swing states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in his favor and by a small amount, around 77,000 votes over Clinton.
And it is that relatively small amount, roughly 0.06% of total votes cast in the country that lead to Trump’s perplexing win. What was it that turned these voters to Trump? Within a few days, most every credible (and non-credible) news source had some sort of theory; and from the start of the discussion, the prominence and influence of fake news ranked high among them.
Many Democrats and a few of the anti-Trump group turned their attention to the prospect that fake news had a substantial influence on the election. Fake news villainized and disparaged Hillary Clinton, influencing enough undecided voters, particularly in the rust belt swing states, to turn against her and hand the 2016 election over to Trump.
Top on the list of suspected fake news suppliers is Russia. Vladimir Putin’s disdain for Hillary Clinton is certainly no well-kept Russian state secret. Putin did not like interacting with her when she was Secretary of State and attempted a re-boot with the Russians. He certainly didn’t want to have to interact with Clinton as president. Seeking to hand Clinton a defeat in the election, Russian operatives inundated the internet and social media platforms with anti-Clinton fake news.
Two weeks after Clinton’s defeat, Craig Timberg, technology reporter for the Washington Post, published a piece showcasing the results of analytical research exposing the methods employed and the reach obtained by the Russians spreading anti-Clinton fake news.
According to the analysis, the Russians enlisted a combination of operatives consisting of paid trolls, botnets and collections of social media accounts and websites. At light speed to record numbers of viewers, they used this network to distribute fake news, conspiracy theories and any hyperbolic propaganda against Clinton. One researcher estimated 15 million viewers on the websites. As for Facebook, the researcher calculated Russians promoted or produced fake news stories viewed over 213 million times.
Supporting the concept of paid operatives (trolls), Rachel Roberts of UK’s Independent news site and Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian report that Senator Mark Warner (D – VA) of the US Senate Intelligence Committee stated testimony confirmed Russians hired 1,000 individuals to create anti-Clinton fake news for distribution during the election in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Regardless of any specific technique used by the Russians, planting disinformation is nothing new for them; however, the vast number of viewers reached and the speed at which they accomplished it is. And it was this high-speed, all reaching dissemination that enabled them to sway the election against Clinton.
The Russians were not the only ones using fake news to their advantage this election. Additional players with other agendas, such as the “alt-right” and unscrupulous entrepreneurs, likewise infiltrated internet driven media platforms with fake news.
Late last March (2017), Wil Worley, of the UK Independent as well, published an article informing his readers that the FBI was investigating rightwing sites, such as Breitbart and InfoWars, to assess their role in the dissemination of pro-Trump fake news via bots at times when the Trump campaign’s poll numbers were down. While scrutinizing these sites, the FBI was also investigating if any of them colluded with the Russians in their efforts, intentionally or otherwise.
Of course, colluding with the Russians isn’t the only fake news game around, some purveyors of fake news are in it for the money. Two such enterprising businessmen, Cameron Harris (New York Times article by Scott Shane) and Paul Horner (Washington Post article by Caitlin Dewey) say their interest in creating fake news is purely monetary.
Both gentlemen have produced slick, authentic looking news websites for the purpose of launching click bait fake news. They use Facebook accounts and other social media-driven platforms to share their stories on their sites. Shares get re-shared and more people are clicking the links to the sites, increasing ad revenue. Both have said that emotional and sensational, pro-Trump/anti-Clinton fake stories get the most clicks, several times over any pro-Clinton/anti-Trump stories.
Both men insist their motives have nothing to do with politics. Horner states he was not nor ever would be a Trump supporter and worries he may have helped put Trump in the Whitehouse. Harris was simply looking to pay his college bills. Yet, for whatever the reason may be, they have both contributed to the anti-Clinton atmosphere and may have influenced a large number of voters away from Clinton with their convincing stories.
Every day, we hear more and more about fake news’ role in the election. The effect of fake news is so subversive, Congress and the FBI are seriously investigating any fake news connection with Russia and if anyone associated with Trumps winning campaign colluded with them to spread it amongst vulnerable swing state voters. Every day, we see more and more evidence pointing to just such a scandal.