Fake News

April 7, 2017
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After watching the election, many people cannot tell between real or fake anymore, in terms of news. In the war between the media and the president, on a neutral point of view, it is difficult to determine who is right and who is wrong. Of course, while believing that they are both telling the truth. Many people rely on proven fake news sources, where stories are made up to help their political party win the elections. Others wonder the number of people who are relying on these false sources, and how they can affect one’s views. To answer this, a study done by Hunt Allcott from New York University and Matthew Gentzkow from Stanford University had intriguing results regarding fake news and its effectiveness.

To begin with, we must define what fake news is before we can identify what is fake news and what is not. Allcott and Gentzkow state fake news is when articles are presented with factual information that is not real or credible. The study consisted of a series of questions that led to the researchers finally understanding the relationship between the American population and their news sources. The questions consisted of whether or not the participant remembered a news source, used social media for their news, and if they believed any specific fake news articles. According to the study, 62% of adults have used social media for their news. This means that a percentage of those who rely on these sources must rely on fake news too. The percentage of participants that saw and believed the fake news was 8%, which is a significant number because of the impact it could have had on the election. So, to dive deeper in the world of fake news, Allcott and Gentzkow decided to figure out which side, Clinton or Trump had more fake news articles. Learning this, we can discover if the outcome of the election was influenced or changed by these fake articles.

The outcome of the election can be largely influenced from a couple thousand fake news articles that gain attraction and look credible because of the amount of likes and comments the article has. After thorough research, Trump’s side happened to be more effective at doing this with their false stories. His stories were shared 30.3 million times while Clinton’s stories were only shared 7.6 million times. To understand whether or not these stories were remembered by the people, or in other words, to test their effectiveness, they asked the participants if they had remembered any specific fake stories. According to the study, “the average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them” (Alcott and Gentzkow 1). Evidently, Trump had won the election by a large electoral margin but lost the irrelevant popular vote. Fake news may have swung some states his way, which may have ultimately affected the outcome of the election.

Although the two researchers do not know whether or not the fake news had actually significantly affected the election, meaning that the outcome could have been changed, they did determine, however, that a single fake news article needed to have the power of 36 television campaign ads and had to convince 0.7% of Clinton voters and nonvoters for Clinton to win the election. The election was won in Trump’s favor by a small margin and the researchers concluded that the results of the election could have been changed with more persuasive news articles from Clinton’s side.

Overall, regardless for who you wanted to win the election, the results are in fact permanent and cannot be changed. However, this sets a scary and dangerous path for future elections as candidates now realize the significance of fake news. In elections in the Netherlands and Italy, they are beginning to see fake news attacks by the Russians to promote pro Russian candidates into office similarly to Donald Trump. To finalize, fake news is becoming more and more of a threat to democracy across the world.

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