“It is now clear that social media and intensely partisan television and radio broadcasts disseminated a massive number of messages during the 2016 Presidential election campaign designed to demonize candidates and seriously distort the facts upon which many voters might base their electoral choices.”
-Fake News DidHave a Significant Impact on the Vote in the 2016 Election
Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet
Fake news is one of the most common phrases we hear coming out of the Trump Administration, yet the term did not exist before 2015 when Donald Trump sought to divert attention from the negative news surrounding his campaign. The practice of “fake news” has always existed, whether it’s misreporting, yellow journalism, or showing biases while reporting on an issue. This was prominent in the 1930’s when “shifts in radio content affected political support for the Nazi Party.” This was one of the first times media has had such a large influence in politics and is a primary example of “a collapse of a democracy without a military coup.” (Adena 2015). However, today the most common question people have is whether fake news actually influenced the 2016 presidential election. Gender, race, age, education, and geographic location are all weakly correlated to defection from the Democratic Party, indicating that an external factor such as news and the media.
A recent study found that “46.5% of all the content that is presented as news and information about politics” was untrustworthy and considered propaganda based on its emotional appeals and use of language (Gunther 2018). More false information exists today than at any other time in American history. Moreover, Facebook reported that they found over 40,000 accounts run by bots but shut down less than 4,000 of them (Vaidhyanathan 2018). Similar problems have been found on other social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube. These platforms operate on the collective mission of bringing people closer together and enabling the dissemination of democratized information. Zuckerberg has often commented about Facebook’s power to share information and provide a stage for people to receive news, information and photos faster than ever before. This information technology revolution is not a bad thing. It allows people who do not have time, money, education, or ability to read or watch the news to find out what is happening and has provided the general public with more information than ever before. But it is shocking and disappointing that their commitment to democratized information only goes so far. These corporations have become irresponsible and do not seem to have strong policies about the proliferation of bots and fake accounts.
There is always the argument that these fake sites do not have much of an impact on actual politics or the 2016 election and that these ideas are spread by angry liberals looking for excuses as to how they could possibly lose the election. At least this is what I heard throughout my high school once Trump was elected to office. However, the Ohio State University study found that “the independent impact of fake news is reduced in its explanatory power by the inclusion of the Clinton and Trump favorability scores, the fake news scale retains a significant impact, explaining 4 percent of the defections from Hillary Clinton. Using a different statistical measure (the odds ratio), former Obama voters who believed one or more of these fake news stories were 3.3 times more likely to defect from the Democratic ticket in 2016 than those who did not believe any of these false claims.” (Gunther 2018).
Small defections from the Democratic ticket are not usually considered a major loss for the party overall. Many people identify as independent, and others oscillate between parties. However, being three times more likely to defect from the party based on foreign and false information has never occurred before. Dr. Gunther found that 10% of the study’s national sample believed that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump before his election. Although this is a small percentage, it could account for hundreds defecting from the Democratic Party. Additionally, almost 40% of Americans believe that during her time as the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton “approved weapons sales to Islamic jihadists, including ISIS, as did 20% of Obama voters.” Furthermore, the “statistical association between belief in these fake news stories and vote choice in the 2016 election by former Barack Obama supporters is very strong. Among those who believed none of the three fake news stories, 89 percent cast ballots for Hillary Clinton in 2016; among those who believed one fake news item, this level of electoral support fell to 61 percent; but among those who had voted for Obama in 2012 and believed two or all three of these false assertions, only 17 percent voted for Clinton.” The evidence that fake news influenced the 2016 election is strong enough to demonstrate the impact on our collective public opinion and national elections.
Despite this overwhelming evidence of collusion, it is still somewhat unclear as to what should be done to protect the 2020 election from similar issues. Fake news, social media, and horserace journalism all influenced the way voters perceived each candidate. The costly defection from the Democratic Party is rare, but fake news and misinformation is far from being eradicated. Today, citizens may be wearying of fake news and take each fact or article with a grain of salt, but this is not enough. Great strides need to be made to ensure the integrity of our democracy and protect our elections from foreign or radical influences.