Terms such as “fake news”, “post-truth” and “alternative facts” will be forever associated with the 2016 Presidential Election. Hoax stories, such as Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS and Pope Francis endorsing Trump for President were liked and commented upon hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, with many consumers not being able to tell whether the headlines were real or not. Over 60 percent of respondents in a survey believed that the latter headline, claiming the Pope released a statement in support of the Republican candidate, was somewhat or very accurate. This highlights the level of confusion that fake news caused which, according to President Obama, created a “dust cloud of nonsense”.
It was not just the political sphere that was affected by this fake news drama. These hoaxes also included crime stories, with one story about a woman’s extreme reaction to winning the lottery being engaged with on Facebook almost 1.77 million times. The frequency with which such bogus headlines infiltrate social media and the internet is alarming, as almost a third of people claim to see fake news on sites such as Facebook or Twitter more than once day.
However, the argument about whose duty it is to combat fake news rumbles on. After increasing pressure from the government and media, Facebook took steps to limit the amount of hoax articles on its site by encouraging users to flag a news article thought to be factually inaccurate. In a survey at the end of 2016, 17 percent of respondents agreed that social media sites should be the most responsible for ensuring people are not exposed to fake news. However, a larger share believed that it was the duty of readers themselves to stop the spread of this false information. With 14 percent of people admitting that they have deliberately shared a fake political news story online, it is clear that these fake news story will continue to gain traction as long as people are still willing to share them online.