The days following this year’s election were filled with media panels discussing fake news and the role it played in the election of Donald Trump. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos showed that an overwhelming amount of people believed ridiculous headlines that they read on their social media feeds. 84% of its respondents believed a headline reading “Donald Trump Sent A Plane to Transport 200 Stranded Marines.”
While it may be easy to guess that more Trump voters believed that to be true (96%) than Clinton voters (68%), that doesn’t make it any less unsettling. The rate at which fake news articles are believed and carelessly shared on social media is alarming. When a country’s decision making is being handled by a misinformed public, decisions are made that do not benefit nearly any of its citizens.
Fake news writers can make thousands of dollars a month in advertisements by publishing false stories and letting them spread across social media. It may seem innocent enough — websites like The Onion have been around for years — but when these articles are shared by people such as campaign managers and the family of candidates on social media, it truly shows how little some care about the truth.
Aside from the outcome of the election itself, fake news has also played a role in another recent event. On Sunday, December 4, a man walked into a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant with an assault rifle. The man had believed a number of fake news articles and conspiracy theories that alleged that Hillary Clinton and her campaign were involved in maintaining a child sex ring at the restaurant. Nobody at the restaurant was physically injured and the man was arrested, but those who believe that spreading misinformation online doesn’t pose a threat to real life safety is incorrect.
Now more than ever, it is important for all parties involved — readers, social media companies and writers — to do their research before clicking “share” and allowing lies to keep appearing true.