Lentis/Fake News

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Fake News is defined 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[1]. While recently the term Fake News has become a popular term, publishing false news stories have occurred throughout history. Historical instances include Benjamin Franklin spreading rumors about indigenous peoples murdering colonists in an effort to sway the public opinion of the American Revolution and a published news article that claimed a man had experience life on the moon[2][3]. These stories and propaganda are often used to influence public opinion about politics and social phenomena.

The most recent and prominent example manifests from the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Teenagers in a small, Macedonian town were receiving a tremendous amount of clicks from fake news headlines on Facebook about the election. An investigation revealed at least 140 fake news websites hailing from the area[4].

In the 21st century, Fake News has become a widespread issue because the internet allows for anonymity and quick dispersal of information.

2016 Election[edit]

A study done by Ohio State University concluded that fake news most likely did have an impact on voting decisions in 2016 for the subset of people who voted for Obama in 2012. The study found that just 77% of Obama supporters also voted for Hillary. Researchers tried to determine if fake news accounted for the defections in 2016 by eliminating other variables like age, education, and political variables. Due to Trump’s narrow victory researchers believe that it is possible that fake news could have been a deciding factor in the election results[5].

A Stanford database reveals how much adults are exposed to unreliable news sources: “62 percent of US adults get news on social media”. The database contains 115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times. Researchers estimated that adults saw and remembered an average of 1.14 fake news stories at the time of the research[6].

Donald Trump and Fake News[edit]

As of July 24th, 2017 Trump had tweeted about fake news 73 times[7]. The GOP also hosted the first ever Fake News Awards which pointed out the most egregious perpetrators of fake news according to the administration[8].

Economics of Fake News[edit]

Robert Shooltz from RealNewsRightNow reported making around $1000 a month and LibertyWriters reported close to $40,000 in the months leading up to the election for their click bait stories and ads. There are a few ways to make money with fake news or click bait websites. Advertising networks (third parties like Google Adsense) require the user to click on the advertisement for the website to get money. Sponsored content draws clicks to other pages and ads and is usually in the form of a grid of eye catching links at the bottom of an article. Certain outlets like Facebook are trying to remove all fake news from their site, and sites like Revcontent have users report suspected fake news content.

Role of Tech Companies[edit]


Major tech companies, like Google and Facebook, heavily influence what news we hear about. In 2018, about 68% of people got some of their news from social media[9]. Tech companies use machine learning algorithms to show us “relevant” content, which is the information we want to see. This makes sense because advertising wouldn’t be effective if it didn’t relate to the user[10]. However, in the context of news, people are more inclined to believe content that supports their views, which is called confirmation bias. These algorithms that help us view content that supports our own views can make “fake news” trend higher up in our news feeds. The problem (before “fake news” became a coined term in the 2016 Presidential Election) was that these algorithms were not checking for news accuracy.

Companies like Google and Facebook have so far only seen themselves as the link between people and information. While they want to stay as simply the technical role, these companies have been more influential on society than they could’ve predicted. At first, Facebook simply had to handle inappropriate content, such as porn sites, videos of bullying, and live videos of violent acts[11]. Such content needs to be reviewed by actual people, which meant more work for the corporation.

In Egyptian Revolution of 2011, which was an uprising against the former President Hosni Mubarak, was highly influenced by Facebook. While Facebook has highlighted that they helped bring freedom to Egypt, there was also a downside to their involvement. Post-Revolution proved to be tough for Egypt because people started to spread rumors through social media that severely affected the stability of the new government. Many would claim that this was the first instance in which Facebook failed to realize the social impact of their product[12].

Some other instances of misinformation include:

  • Following the 2016 Presidential Election, Google’s top result for the election was that Donald Trump had won both the electoral and popular vote. In reality, Trump had only won the electoral vote and Hilary Clinton had won the popular vote[13].
  • After the 2017 mass shooting at a bar in Las Vegas that claimed over 50 lives, Facebook and Google had promoted an article claimed that a registered Democrat who was dissatisfied with President Trump was the prime suspect. The article was written by alt-right wing extremists and proved to be false, but had placed an innocent man under unnecessary scrutiny[14].

New Policies[edit]

Previously, these companies argued that it was not their responsibility to filter what their users saw and that they could not limit someone’s right to express. Since 2016, however, Facebook and Google have started to tweak their algorithms to prevent the spread of misinformation, and are taking the “fake news” problem seriously.

Some new features regarding “fake news” on Facebook include:

  • Fact-checking will be done by 3rd party organizations.
    • It still takes 2-3 days, however Facebook claims to decrease the time soon.
    • Fake stories will be flagged, and users will be able to see the fact-checking results and opinions.
  • Fake stories will not trend by being placed at lowest priority, decreasing distribution by 80%.
  • Repeat offenders who misinform will have restricted advertising and monetization opportunities.
    • This is an effective technique since most “fake news” creators write to get more clicks. Through less monetization of those clicks, writers will be less inclined to create fake news articles.
    • Google is also using a similar strategy by preventing fake news sites from using Google Adsense monetization. [15]

Social Impact of Fake News[edit]

Trust in mainstream media has declined more amongst Republicans, but Democrats and Republicans are both about 15% more likely to believe ideologically aligned headlines[16].

Social costs include:

  • Consumers have to overcome their desires for confirmatory news and choose unbiased sources
  • Less accurate beliefs
  • Lower quality political candidates
  • Skepticism of legitimate news producers
  • Reduced demand for accurate unbiased reporting reduces incentives to report accurately and truthfully
  • Reduced voter turn out, especially for people in the middle


  1. Fake News. (n.d.). In Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/fake-news
  2. Soll, J. (2016, December 18). The Long and Brutal History of Fake News. Politico Magazine.
  3. The Great Moon Hoax. (2009, November 24). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-moon-hoax
  4. The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing up for 2020. (n.d.). CNN. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/
  5. Finnegan, A. (2018, March 10). Fake News May Have Contributed to Trump's 2016 Victory. Retrieved from https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4429952-Fake-News-May-Have-Contributed-to-Trump-s-2016.html
  6. Stanford University. (2018, March 08). Stanford study examines fake news and the 2016 presidential election. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/18/stanford-study-examines-fake-news-2016-presidential-election/
  7. Rosen, C. (2017, July 21). All the Times Donald Trump Has Called Something 'Fake News'. Retrieved from https://ew.com/tv/2017/06/27/donald-trump-fake-news-twitter/
  8. The Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards. (2018, January 17). Retrieved from https://gop.com/the-highly-anticipated-2017-fake-news-awards/
  9. Pew Research Center (Ed.). (2018, September 21). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/
  10. Facebook. (2017). Facing Facts. Retrieved from https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/05/inside-feed-facing-facts/
  11. ABC Inc. (2018, April 06). 10 most shocking Facebook Live moments ever captured. Retrieved from https://abc13.com/10-most-shocking-facebook-live-moments-ever-captured/3302314/
  12. WGBH Educational Foundation. (2018, October 29). The Facebook Dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/facebook-dilemma/
  13. The Washington Post. (2016, November 14). Google's top news link for 'final election results' goes to a fake news site with false numbers. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/14/googles-top-news-link-for-final-election-results-goes-to-a-fake-news-site-with-false-numbers/?utm_term=.44dc3aece28a
  14. The Guardian. (2017, October 02). Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-facebook-google-fake-news-shooter
  15. Facebook. (2017, December 20). How Facebook Addresses False News. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/facebook/videos/10156900476581729/
  16. Stanford University. (2018, March 08). Stanford study examines fake news and the 2016 presidential election. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/18/stanford-study-examines-fake-news-2016-presidential-election/