Monday, November 21, 2016

ELECTIONS - Hoaxes and Fake News

"How online hoaxes and fake news played a role in the election" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2016

COMMENT:  Why do you think gossip news magazines are so popular?  It's titillating even if not true.


SUMMARY:  Tech giants like Google and Facebook face mounting criticism over whether they used insufficient discretion in weeding out fake news.  A Buzzfeed analysis found that false stories generated more engagement than content from real news sites in the three months before the election.  Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Craig Silverman, founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada, for more.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  In the week or so since the election, there has been mounting criticism of whether Web giants like Facebook and Google used enough discretion and editorial responsibility in screening out fake news sites.

A new analysis by BuzzFeed found that false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated more engagement than content from real news sites during the last three months of the election.  Users shared false stories like this one about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS hundreds of thousands of times, even more than real stories.

President Obama weighed in today during his trip to Germany.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  If we are not serious about facts and what's true and what's not, and particularly in an age of social media, where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones, if we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Craig Silverman worked on the analysis done by BuzzFeed, and he joins me now.

Craig, how do we know Facebook's impact on the electorate?  How did you research this?

CRAIG SILVERMAN, Founding Editor, BuzzFeed Canada:  Well, what we did is looked for the biggest 20 hits in the last three months before the election from sites that published fake news or sites that had published something false that also went viral, and then we looked at the total number of Facebook engagements for those.

And that's a number that encompasses, the comments, reactions and the shares.  And we decided to compare those to the top 20 real election news hits from 19 major news organizations.  And what we ended up seeing, which was quite surprising, was, in those last three months of the election, compared to the six months before that, the engagement on the top 20 fake stories was actually higher than what you saw for the real news.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And you found that some of these sites were really news sites, but still they had as much power, if not more, than, say, The New York Times or The Washington Post?

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  That was one of the really surprising things to me.

I didn't expect fake news to get more engagement than real news overall, but to see that the leading fake news site getting the most engagement had only been registered months before, and its top four fake stories got more Facebook engagement than the top four election stories from The Washington Post, I mean, that was really surprising.

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