Fake news has altered the way Americans consume news ever since the 2016 presidential election. This is when it came to light but it has actually been traced to 2013 and the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. It put a massive microscope on the details we mistook for the truth. We look at all new sources with a hint of skepticism and are no longer surprised by the falsified information. Why does fake news spread so easily and how did it become commonplace in our lives?
The Atlantic reports that fake news outperforms real news because it stands out and evokes more emotion. This is critical because storytelling can do just that. When a brand wants to captivates consumers, they find a unique way to enter their spaces and relate to them emotionally.
It makes sense why fake news exploded during the 2016 presidential election: Hillary Clinton repeating her husband’s footsteps and continuing the Democratic Party’s legacy of “deception” was more novel than her wishing to continue the past 8 years of Democratic leadership under Obama. Her sensitive, covert emails being shared on a non-secure server was more appealing than Donald Trump’s decision to not release his taxes despite it being a presidential precedent. The little details always stood more than the overall picture because they could be easily sensationalized. Americans wanted the nitty gritty even if it was a lie. How does social media play into this shift of media consumption?
Social media is all about content consumption and many parties have content marketing strategies. Aside from these strategic social media users, you have everyday people that seek interesting content, which can largely be fake news. Surprisingly, the social media platform that contributed to the largest spread of fake news is Twitter. A 2013 fake news study conducted by lead data scientist Soroush Vosoughi at MIT reveals that the Twitter users that spread most of this false information are those who haven’t been on Twitter as long and aren’t as popular. Users who share accurate information have a larger following and are more active. It’s definitely not bots like people had once assumed. What does this mean for social media moving forward?
Social media companies must be restructured to accommodate surges in the spread of misinformation. They should have teams in place to review content more critically and fact check it. They should be on the lookout for abusive and malignant information. Basically, social media companies must protect the free press without infringing on it, a difficult task no one has seemed to master. The larger issue is that many of these social media companies never intended to be media; they began as tech companies and still see themselves as such despite their exponential growth and evolution.
Facebook will likely be the leader of best practices with preventing the spread of false information as they were subpoenaed by the U.S. Congress and interrogated about their contributions to fake news in 2016. Should the responsibility of managing content on social media companies fall on them or governments? Learn more about Facebook ads and their impact on fake news and decide.