BY SAMAN SALAHUDDIN
Pope Francis, shocks world, and endorses Donald Trump for president.
FBI agent suspected in Hillary’s email leaks was found dead in apparent murder-suicide.
ISIS leader calls for American muslims to vote for Hillary Clinton.
These are just some of the thousands of “Fake News” stories that infiltrated social media throughout the 2016 presidential election. Each one of these stories garnered over hundreds of thousands views across platforms such as Facebook and Google. In fact, according to the New York Times, 2016 may have been the first election in which “Fake News” had a significantly wide enough reach to impact the outcome of the election. But, the situation gets even more terrifying and absurd. According to a study done by BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, during the last three months of the election, the most popular “fake news” stories received more engagement—in the form of shares, reactions and comments on Facebook—as compared to those of mainstream media. Based of off these statistics, it is entirely possible that the votes of millions of Americans may have been partly influenced by completely bogus news.
In America, we pride ourselves on a democracy that values a free exchange of ideas and promotes, at least in theory, a well informed and educated electorate. The prevalence of biased and factually incorrect news jeopardizes that very fabric that we as Americans have come to expect from our democracy. A study done by Pew Research Center revealed that forty-four percent of American adults obtain their news from Facebook. That is where yet another consequence of “fake news” manifests itself. According to BuzzFeed, thirty-eight percent of news on Republican leaning Facebook pages was either partly or entirely incorrect compared to ninteen percent of news on certain Democratic leaning Facebook pages. It’s absolutely absurd that an overwhelming number of Americans are receiving their news from Facebook pages that are to willing to compromise the truth in an attempt to promote a one-sided agenda. In fact, this problem is so widespread that fake news has become an industry. For example, during the election teenagers in a small town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were running dozens, maybe even hundreds, of pro-Trump websites that spread blatantly “fake news”. Their intentions; purely economic. One of the teenagers told BuzzFeed that he “watched as money began trickling into his Google AdSense account”.
This phenomenon is compounded by the fact that we as a society are now more insulated by our views than ever before. It has become increasingly easier for us to live in an ideological bubble and to surround ourselves with individuals that share the same opinions. The internet and social media have perpetuated this insulation, because we now can follow pages that lean very heavily to one side or another on the political spectrum. By doing this, we inadvertently become engrossed in a bubble, making it harder for real and balanced journalism to influence the news feeds of our Facebook accounts. Commenting on this phenomenon, John Oliver very articularly said “people can chose to get their views from echo chambers that validate their views.” I’m not saying that media that has a viewpoint is wrong, in fact, in many circumstances it’s invaluable, but it is necessary that we add balanced journalism to our media diets. That means we must actively seek news from multiple different sources instead of relying upon Fox News or CNN as our one and only source of information. Occupy Democrats should not be the basis of all our statistics and opinions.
There is no doubt that our country is extremely divided along political lines. We as a society have strayed from the urge to engage with the other side and to understand perspectives that may differ from our own. It’s the reason why Donald Trump supporters are unable to even fathom how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton and vise versa. This kind of partisan divide will never be conducive to governance, and I personally believe that balanced journalism is a step towards healing that divide.