Back in 2018, researchers at Ohio State University made a disturbing connection. They found “fake news” may have helped elect Donald Trump.
The scientists surveyed 585 voters who voted for Pres. Obama in 2012. But 23% of these voters didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In fact, 10% actually voted for Donald Trump.
According to the Washington Post, the survey included three fake news stories that circulated during the 2016 campaign. They included claims that…
- Clinton okayed sales of weapons to Islamic terrorists
- Clinton was seriously ill during the campaign
- The Pope had endorsed Trump’s candidacy.
Anywhere from 8% – 20% of those who voted for Obama believed – at least partly – one or more of these stories. Clinton won the votes of 89% of those who didn’tbuy the stories. But only 45% of those who believed at least one of them.
These results can’t prove causality. But they’re awfully suggestive. What’s worse, we appear poised to face the same situation in 2020.
The Truth Is in Trouble
Pew Research issued a report in 2017 that paints a dark future for the truth.
The report quotes Wired magazine’s co-founder, Kevin Kelly. “For every fact there is a counterfact,” Kelly said, “and all these counterfacts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”
Among the challenges noted in the report: Our “inbred preference for comfort and convenience.” And the tendency to accept any claims that reinforce beliefs we already hold.
That is, given a fact and a “counterfact,” our natural choice will be the one that better fits our world view.
As one respondent wrote, “There is no market for the truth. The public isn’t motivated to seek out verified, vetted information. They are happy hearing what confirms their views.”
“The crisis we face about ‘truth’ and reliable facts,” wrote Jamais Cascio of the Institute for the Future, “is predicated less on the ability to get people to believe the *wrong* thing, as it is on the ability to get people to *doubt* the right thing. The success of Donald Trump will be a flaming signal that this strategy works…”
Based on Trump’s 18,000+ presidential lies – and the GOP’s Twitter feed – expect the Internet to be awash in “alternative facts” and misleading stories right through the 2020 election. And beyond.
Facing this future, is there anything we can do? Yes. And it’s absurdly simple.
Fighting Back Against Trump’s Attack
A new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lists Trump’s many attacks on legitimate media:
- His campaign has filed lawsuits against major media companies
- He’s suggested limiting press freedoms by loosening libel laws
- Customs and Border Protection harassment of journalists at border crossings
- Calling for boycotts of media outlets critical of his administration
- Cutting off normal lines of communication – such as press briefings
- And his endless cries of “fake news” to discredit legitimate news stories
So how do we fight this? Simple: Support responsible journalism. Subscribe to a legitimate newspaper. Visit reliable ad-supported news sites. Become a member of your local Public Broadcasting radio or TV station. Support independent journalism outlets such as Mother Jones.
Trump can only succeed if we fail to act. Supporting those willing to call him out is the easiest – and probably most effective – way to do that.
And, quite possibly, the best way to prevent Trump’s onslaught of lies and fake news from swaying another election.
Blake, A., “A new study suggests fake news might have won Donald Trump the 2016 election,” The Washington Post. Apr 3, 2018.
“The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online,” Pew Research. Oct 19, 2017.
Farhl, P., “New study says Trump has ‘dangerously undermined truth’ with attacks on news media,” The Washington Post. Apr 16, 2020.