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Fake News Outperformed Real News On Facebook At Height Of 2016 Campaign

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Fake News Outperformed Real News On Facebook At Height Of 2016 Campaign


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters. 

An analysis by BuzzFeed News found that during the 2016 election, fake news stories generated more engagement on Facebook than did the top election articles from major news outlets.

BuzzFeed’s analysis comes amid growing criticism of Facebook’s lack of effective action against fake news. It was recently revealed that Facebook shelved plans to combat the epidemic of fake news stories due to fear of backlash from conservatives because the move would have “disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds.”

That fear of conservative backlash resulted in further fake news stories, which then generated “more engagement” on Facebook than did “the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,” a Buzzfeed analysis has found:

In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.


This new data illustrates the power of fake election news on Facebook, and comes as the social network deals with criticism that it allowed false content to run rampant during the 2016 presidential campaign. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently it was “a pretty crazy idea” to suggest that fake news on Facebook helped sway the election. He later published a post saying, “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here.”

Amid this criticism, The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey interviewed Paul Horner, a “38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire.” Horner described the rise of fake news in 2016 and said the Trump campaign even helped push it:

You’ve been writing fake news for a while now — you’re kind of like the OG Facebook news hoaxer. Well, I’d call it hoaxing or fake news. You’d call it parody or satire. How is that scene different now than it was three or five years ago? Why did something like your story about Obama invalidating the election results (almost 250,000 Facebook shares, as of this writing) go so viral?

Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.

You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?

My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.

(Twitter via Mediaite)

Why? I mean — why would you even write that?

Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.

I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].

The entire interview is worth reading.

It’s clear now that Facebook must take concrete steps to combat fake news — regardless of the conservative or liberal criticism the company might face. Join Media Matters in asking Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to fix their fake news problem by signing our petition.

IMAGE: A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Samsung S4 smartphone in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic



  1. eleanor.lutz November 18, 2016

    It’s been one yr since I decided to abandon my office work and that decision was a lifechanger for me… I started working over internet, for a company I found on-line, for a few hrs every day, and my income now is much bigger then it was on my last job… My last month paycheck was for 9000 dollars… The best thing about it is that now i have more free time for my loved ones… http://chilp.it/8d93f4b

  2. Theodora30 November 18, 2016

    There was a lot of fake news in the MSM too. The NY Times is a long time offender, repeatedly being duped by right wing operatives. The Times pushed the completely bogus Whitewater story, Wen Ho Lee, WMD. The rest of the MSM joined in without bothering to do their own fact checking.
    Having learned nothing from those debacles, last year the Times and the WaPo signed agreements to us then”reporting” from Breitbart’s Peter Schweitzer’s screed “Clinton Cash”. Other media outlets quickly debunked the charges but the damage was enormous. Those bogus accusations were repeated over and over, sadly even by many on the left. In contrast the MSM could. It be bothered to look at Trump’s shady foundation until just this past summer.
    I would argue that fake news in the mainstream “liberal” media has done as much, if not more damage than fake news on social media. As usual the mainstream journalists and pundits will give themselves a pass.

    1. FireBaron November 18, 2016

      Pretty much anything pushed through from the NY Post on to legitimate news websites is the same. NYP uses the same sources as the National Inquirer (Ouija board, Magic 8 Ball, rolling the dice) for their reporting.

      1. Theodora30 November 18, 2016

        I was referring to the New York Times and the Washington Post, not Rupert Murdoch’s rag. They used the book by Breitbart’s Peter Schweitzer for their reporting.

      2. dpaano November 22, 2016

        But, but, but…..the National Enquirer is the ONLY paper that Trump reads….it MUST be true, right?

  3. Mama Bear November 18, 2016

    This is where the ignorant ones really shine – never reading more than one source. I read 5 newspapers every day including 3 from Europe….not cover to cover but if you take one story and follow it thru 5 sources my my my how the truth comes out.

    1. Bill P November 18, 2016

      You are totally correct, one troll on this site claimed that he had proof of 3 million illegals voting in 2016. Googling this produced numerous websites all claiming the 3 million illegal vote issue. Looking at some of these sites showed one thing, they all used the same source GreggPhillips@JumpVote. No proof of this claim was ever shown.

      1. dpaano November 22, 2016

        That’s pretty sad, and I can guarantee you that this WAS one thing that helped Trump get elected! His “followers” are so uninformed and brainwashed that they believed EVERYTHING they were told except the facts!

  4. Jon November 18, 2016

    Facebook needs to pay for being one of Trump’s propaganda outlets. I quit it because of all the lies it promoted. I wish millions of others would do the same. Let it be the right wing propaganda tool it was and continues to be. I won’t support it.

    1. dpaano November 22, 2016

      I quit ALL social media because it was getting ridiculous and time consuming, as well as full of BS during the campaign.

  5. dpaano November 22, 2016

    Gee, he “feels bad?” Seriously!


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