Fake news – we’ve heard that term so often over the past year that it’s become a mainstay in the American lexicon. Democrats claim it won Donald Trump the presidency. Now the president regularly labels establishment media outlets as “fake news” for of their biased reporting.
But what if fake news wasn’t as big a deal as we thought?
A recent study suggests that false news stories might not be influential enough to matter. In fact, it appears that all the news could be dramatically overblown.
Fake News Isn’t as Big a Problem as We Thought
The study was conducted by three political scientists: Brendan Nyhan from Dartmouth College, Andrew Guess from Princeton University, and Jason Reifler from the University of Exeter. The trio analyzed data from a sample of 2,525 volunteers who allowed their internet browsing history to be monitored.
The team of scientists defined sites as fake news if they published at least two stories that were clearly false. They looked at the websites the participants visited in the weeks before and after the 2016 election.
The study showed that one in four Americans viewed at least one fictitious news article. It is interesting to note that while conservatives consume more fake news than liberals, individuals with right-wing views also saw far more real news. False news stories accounted for 1% of the content read by liberals while 6% of stories read by conservatives. Interestingly enough, the study showed that conservatives saw only five fake news articles over a five-week period.
Simply put, the number of false articles being consumed by both liberals and conservatives is minuscule when compared to stories published by reputable sources. However, it is important to note that the study did not examine articles reported by establishment media outlets.
While the study did not seek to prove whether or not fake news could have a significant measure of influence, the team members indicated that such fictions might not have much impact on people’s opinions. “For all the hype about fake news, it’s important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,” Dr. Nyhan told The New York Times. “They were also voracious consumers of hard news.”
Nyhan also stated that Americans who consumed fake news were “intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.”
What do these findings mean?
So Much For That Russian Interference Theory
Remember when the Democrats lost the 2016 election? Of course you do. What was one of their main excuses for Clinton’s loss? The Russians.
After Trump won in 2016, the Democrats and their trusted allies in the establishment media published story after story claiming that the fake news spread by Russian hackers convinced the American public to vote for Trump. The results of this study paint a different picture. If phony news wasn’t as influential as we initially assumed, then Americans made their decision without help from the Kremlin.
The Russian interference in the 2016 election was where the hysteria over fake news originated. Many were concerned about the potential consequences of the Kremlin’s actions – and rightly so. While this study does not conclusively prove that counterfeit stories did not influence the election, it is another indicator that Russia’s operatives were ineffective. Moreover, there have been other studies suggesting that fake news did not have the impact the Russians desired.
But what about the establishment media’s reporting?
What About the Establishment Media’s Fake News Problem?
As stated previously, the study did not analyze false stories published by the news outlets considered by most as more reputable, like CNN, ABC, NBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. However, the fact that these media organizations have usually been seen as more credible might indicate that their fake news would carry more weight than sites with a reputation for falsity.
One example of the media’s influence is the recent tax reform bill. Polls show that the majority of Americans believe that the GOP’s legislation will raise their taxes, even though this claim is demonstrably false. However, the media’s reporting has led much of the American public to believe that their taxes will increase.
We also have the Russia collusion narrative. In December 2017, The Hill reported that half of American voters believe that the president collaborated with the Russian government to win the election, regardless of the fact that no evidence has surfaced. Again, the media’s reporting has been designed to persuade their audience that Trump is guilty of wrongdoing, despite the lack of evidence.
While the media’s reporting is skewed, it is important to note that Americans do not trust these outlets as much as they once did. Over the past year, Americans’ trust in their news outlets has fluctuated, but more Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of the fourth estate. Axios recently reported that 62% of Americans state that their trust in “traditional media” has decreased due to the publishing of fake news.
The Establishment Media’s Fake News Has Influence
While the stories being reported by fake news sites are not helpful, it is the establishment media’s false stories that could potentially do more damage. As the study suggests, Americans consume far more news stories from reputable news organizations than from others.
Donald Trump isn’t always correct when he calls out the media for their bias and false reporting – but he is right often enough. Right now, the press is in a precarious position because they are dealing with a president who is willing to call them out when they publish inaccurate stories.
Unfortunately, the people who lose the most in this conflict is the American public. We deserve to know the truth. The purpose of the press is to inform us, not to try to convince us to further an agenda. We cannot expect to have a fair and balanced press unless we hold our news outlets accountable.