2016: The Mainstream Media Melted Down as Fake News Festered
The price of fooling ourselves day by day, week to week, month after month.
But this last year in American media has been rougher than most. The election inspired more than the usual amount of tribalism online, and citizens’ trust in traditional media fell to an all-time low: just 32 percent told Gallup they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This lack of trust formed the perfect petri dish in which a plague of misinformation could fester and bloom.
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Along came the fake news stories and hyper-partisan websites that were more than happy to publish unrecognizable hyperbole and all-out lies. The stories didn’t have to be true—the public had already lost faith in the fact-checkers—they just had to confirm a certain subset of people’s existing beliefs. And if they did, people would share them. The more people shared them, the more Facebook would reward their publishers by prioritizing them in users’ news feeds. By August, one Buzzfeed analysis showed, fake news was increasingly outperforming the top stories at the 19 major news outlets.
It’s little wonder then, that in this brave new world, a candidate like Donald Trump could become president. While mainstream media outlets, fact-checking organizations, and Hillary Clinton’s team worked diligently to correct his frequent fibs, Trump’s supporters were being treated to a completely different narrative about the man—and the woman he was running against—in their social media feeds.