With the rapid increase of online media consumption over the last few years, newspapers have seen a noticeable decrease in circulation. Where newspaper used to be king, fake online media outlets and/or stories now garner more engagement than real news.
In today’s world, anyone with a smart phone and a social media account can post anything they want. No fact-checking or responsibility to the truth to get in the way. In fact, it is often the ability to shock-and-share that drives content virally rather than quality of the post — especially when it comes to this past presidential election.
There are several types of fake news that surrounded the 2016 presidential election. There were misinformed posts and stories like one by Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old businessman about whom The New York Times recently wrote a case study. Tucker, who had 40 Twitter followers, tweeted last November 9, “Anti-Trump protestors in Austin today are not as organic as they seem. Here are the buses they came in. #fakeprotests #trump2016 #austin.” Eric had no evidence to his claim, except that the buses were close to the protests sites. The truth was that the buses were there to drop off attendees for a legitimate conference in the Austin area. However, that didn’t stop the Reddit community for Mr. Trump to post it to their site. From there, the post circulated on several other sites and was commented on and shared hundreds of thousand times.
“Liar, liar pants-on-fire” is another type of fake media. This is defined by Wikipedia as media that “deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation, using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain their readers for financial, political, or other gain.” And guess what – it works!
Three months prior to the 45th presidential election, a BuzzFeed News analysis found that the top fake election news stories generated more Facebook total engagement than election stories from the top 19 major news outlets combined.
During these crucial months leading up to the campaign, the BuzzFeed analysis discovered that the “20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.” That means that Facebook users were 8.2% more engaged with shock-and-awe rather than real news stories.
So, what does this mean for reputable media outlets and newspapers? With this influx of fake news and information overload, online media might start to see a backlash in credibility, thus opening a door for newspapers and honest journalism to make a comeback.