Written by Libby Taylor
The power of fake news is something that cannot be underestimated. Whether it has changed presidential election results, or stirred views in society, it has led to a wide distrust in western media.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines fake news as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.” It goes even far to state that “There is concern about the power of fake news to affect election results.”
Fake news can be used to promote propaganda that has been shared to mislead readers by disguising itself as legitimate news stories. It seems the main reasons for sharing these fake news stories are to plant ideas in the readers’ head and lead them to change the views the have. They can also be disguised as click bait titles which lure people into clicking on them, leading to a profitable gain for the writer as on many sites, the writer will be paid by number of visitors to their article. Some fake news stories can include an ounce of truth, but don’t have any reliable contextual information, quotes or sources. Others may be include trustworthy information but are written in a way in which it can mislead the reader.
The 2016 US presidential election saw the start of the fake news ‘phenomenon’ where it gained more attention across the world. A study found that cause of the surprise election of Donald Trump as president, could have been due to fake news possibly damaging Hilary Clinton’s support on election day.
Stories about Clinton’s rumoured ill health and Pope Francis’ apparent support of Trump persuaded Barack Obama’s previous supporters to vote republican. The researchers of the study said that, “We cannot prove that the belief in fake news caused these former Obama voters to defect from the Democratic candidate in 2016…these data strongly suggest, however, that exposure to fake news did have a significant impact on voting decisions.”
The power of fake news here is that it can cause people to change their political views, and arguably, if these fake news stories hadn’t have circulated, Clinton could have won the election. She lost states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than one percent, the cause maybe being due to fake news. An exclusive poll by The Independent showed that forty one per cent of the electorate believed Donald Trump’s accusations that journalists were biased against him. Throughout his presidency, Trump has accused the media of putting out fake news stories. Recently he claimed the coronavirus outbreak was a “Fake News Media Conspiracy” and that the reason that the United States had the most amount of cases was because “we TEST, TEST, TEST.”
In the modern age of technology, we are now so used to receiving our news sources from the internet, all of which we assume are reliable, and from legitimate sites. However, with more and more people being able to share misleading information at the drop of a hat, it is hard to know what you can believe and trust. Articles shared or retweeted onto our feed by our friends and family are typically taken as fact. News travels fast in the modern world, and fake news is no exception.
Those most vulnerable to falling down the trap of fake news stories are the young and the elderly who trust that anything that is shared or put onto their timeline is fact. Furthermore, those who hold strong beliefs on either the left or right side of politics are eager to believe anything that will confirm their views and reinforce their convictions. These people, who through no fault of their own, believe these false stories cause a chain effect of more and more people believing it as they continue to share and pass the information on. The public deserve to know the truth and be able to trust that the news that pops up on their phones is reliable, but like most things, fake news is going to be hard to get rid of. The best way to know what is actually going on is to only follow and read from credited and trustworthy sources.