Posted: February 16th, 2022

What is the danger to the public and American democracy

  1. What is fake news, and why has it expanded so rapidly, especially during the 2016 election?


Fake news refers to false stories that appear to be news and quickly spread to influence the readers’ political beliefs and worldview. The concept of fake news grew in popularity after the incident that happened during the 2016 campaign (Watson, 2022). During that time, many audiences are said to have witnessed fake news. Since then, Americans have become worried about the influence of misinformation on voters and elections. These false stories generally originate from sources such as biased reporting, deep fakes, and selectively quoting sources which contribute to the confusion and difficulty of consumers to determine the truth. Today, Americans have been concerned about the quality of the news they encounter daily from various websites. Statistics show that two-thirds of news consumers say that they don’t trust news received from social media platforms, while older people become even more worried about this topic (Auxier & Arbanas, 2021). A recent example of fake news includes the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby around 80% of citizens reported having seen fake news on the coronavirus outbreak, highlighting the effects and spread of fake news (Watson, 2022). 

The major reason fake news has expanded so rapidly is the increased changes in media technology. After the 2012 elections, Facebook introduced new tools to help its users read and share news stories. The 2016 incident went viral on Facebook due to traffic on google searches in which stories from dubious sites jumped to the top of your screen (PolitiFact, 2022). Creators of fake news discovered they could make money off news through automated advertising that rewarded high traffics to their websites. For instance, a man from the Los Angeles suburbs running a string of fake news told NPR that he could make between $10,000 and $30,000 in a month (PolitiFact, 2022). Another major contributing factor is that barriers to entry in the media industry have drastically dropped. It has become very easy for anyone to set up a website and additionally easy to monetize web content through various advertising platforms. This has led to a sharp increase in social media use since 2016, reaching up to 1.8billion Facebook users to 400 million twitter’s (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Since then, there has been a continuing decline of trust and confidence in the media platform about news reporting. These declines were marked more on the republicans as compared to democrats, thus contributing to a sharp drop among the republicans in 2016 (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). To conclude, the declining trust in the mainstream media could be termed as both the cause and consequence of fake news gaining more traction.


  1. What is the danger to the public and American democracy posed by fake news?

The entire process of democracy is based on reliable information; therefore, violating this rule by generating fake news would pose a greater danger to the public and American democracy. The widespread dissemination of fake news has resulted in its citizens being unable to form well-considered opinions, evident by making rational political decisions. This issue increases the correlation between fake news viewing attitudes of inefficacy, alienation, and cynicism towards politics (Lee, 2019). One major consequence of factual fake news on the US democracy is that the people tend to confuse the two types of fake news, factual and ideological therefore providing validity to ideological claims of fake news. Many citizens have developed a distrust of the mainstream media and have become more politically polarized. Individuals have continued to cling to alternative sets of facts while others do not know what to believe. At this point, fake news has managed to diminish the optimum possibility of establishing a democratic debate and the subsequent legitimacy of the democratic process. To add to this, it has presented a destabilizing capacity that has affected the citizens’ trust in the policies, government, and democracy (Lee, 2019). The above destabilization could cause tension between citizens and citizen-media interactions. According to Lee (2019), fake news creates communities that act like feedback loops “hearing our thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read […] and the neighborhoods we live in.” Political polarizations such as these have critical consequences on democracy because people use the destabilizing properties of fake news to fuel partisan politics (Lee, 2019). 

In conclusion, the most dangerous effect of fake news is its negative consequences on liberal democracy. Lee (2019) argued that the delegitimization of the democratic process in the USA due to fake news could be a major signal to the oncoming democratic failure or transition to a hybrid regime. The future democracy doesn’t seem promising because of the age of fake news. The media has continued to be an underestimated value to democracy while the citizens are increasingly becoming aware of its impact on worldviews. Therefore there can be no doubt about the detrimental effects of fake news on both the public and democracy.


  1. How can fake news be combatted by individuals, society, the media, etc.?

Various ways can address the issue of fake news in the media. Consumers must realize that they play a major role as far as this topic is concerned. Sharing of fake news is not uncommon among US citizens. 10% of respondents of a study admitted that they had shared fake news with others even after identifying that the news was fake (Watson, 2022). It is a matter of responsibility of oneself to fight this problem. There is a greater hope as the audiences develop discernment and identify genuine content. While fake news will continue to circulate, there will be less attention to it.

Additional methods include redesigning algorithms that play a major role in encouraging fake news and filtering bubbles. The government must create laws that make the authoring and distributing of false information punishable. Through this, the government will be able to regulate fake news properly. In conclusion, the government laws or the algorithm changes, the responsibility remains on the citizens of America. The only way to combat factual and ideological fake news is to educate the public on achieving deductive conclusions, increasing their level of discernment.



  1. What effect, if any, did fake news have in the 2016 election, and who did it affect most?

         During the 2016 election, the public engagement with fake news on Facebook was higher than mainstream sources. A post-election survey suggested that 3 months before elections, Americans reported spending 66minutes each day listening and watching the news while 38% spent their time on social media (Lee, 2019). undecided voters during the election were more likely to vote for President Trump if they had believed the fake news on social media about Hillary Clinton (Marina, 2020). These remain to be the most contested controversies of president trumps victory in 2016. Statistics show that three months before the elections, fake news favouring Trump was shared 30million times compared to 8 million favouring Clinton (Mores & Georgacopoulos, 2020). Due to the above factor and many more, commentators had suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected if not for the fake news everywhere (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Fake news was found to affect 65 years and older citizens who were believed to be more susceptible to believing the news than millennials (Marina, 2020). To add to this, the issue of distrust to the media platform had drastically increased more on the republicans versus the democrats, which contributed to a decrease among republicans in 2016 (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). 



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