In the three months since Donald Trump’s shocking general election victory over Hillary Clinton, the American public has faced a constant barrage of excuses about how such a thing could happen. From Russian hackers to Wikileaks to white nationalists to James Comey, there seems to be no shortage of culprits.
But a recent study has eliminated one of the most commonly-blamed from contention: Fake news. Authored by researchers Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford, the paper “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election” provides little comfort to those who wish to blame fake news for Mr. Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States. According to a summary of the paper published on a Stanford website in the days prior to the inauguration,
” ‘A reader of our study could very reasonably say, based on our set of facts, that it is unlikely that fake news swayed the election,’ said Gentzkow, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).”
But the bad news for the blame-fake-news crowd doesn’t end there. A careful reading of the study’s details reveals that these results came despite the fact that the study’s design should have produced results favorable to the Clinton camp.
What basis, you may ask, is there for such a claim? Well, as part of the study, researchers collected a database of news stories that were considered to be fake. The database was compiled from fake news lists obtained from three sources: Politifact, Snopes, and BuzzFeed. That’s right, three sites which have each earned – to varying degrees – a reputation for being liberally slanted.
This is likely why the database contained two-and-one-half times as many pro-Trump fake stories as pro-Clinton fake stories. (In fairness to the researchers, they do note in the paper that “The lack of perfect overlap [between sources] shows that none of these lists is comprehensive and suggests that there may be fake news articles that are omitted from our database”.)
And yet even with the odds stacked in their favor in this study, the leftists’ fake news culprit goes down in flames. Unfortunately this result will do little to quell their belief, despite the fact that the biggest fake news story of 2016 was itself … a fake.
A few other items of interest from the study’s abstract:
– an estimated 0.7 percent (that’s 7 in 1000) of people who viewed Trump-favorable fake news on social media believed it.
– respondents said they trusted the news they read on social media less than half as much as that they obtained via traditional national and local news sources.
– traditional news outlets obtained 10% of their online hits from links posted to social media, while websites promoting fake news relied on social media for more than 40% of their visits.
– a single fake news item posted to social media would need to have the same effect as 36 television ads in order to have affected the election outcome.