Fake news is a convenient scapegoat, but the big 2016 problem was the real news

Matthew Yglesias writes: Speaking in early December at a ceremony to honor Harry Reid’s retirement from the US Senate, Hillary Clinton took aim at a target that would have been totally unfamiliar to audiences as recently as the summer of 2016: fake news.

She spoke of “an epidemic” of the stuff that has “flooded social media” over the past year and “can have real-world consequences.”

This was reported largely as commentary on the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which had recently led to an alarming armed standoff at DC’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant. But it was also pretty clearly an allusion to her own recently failed presidential campaign, especially because she spoke favorably of the idea of bipartisan legislation to curb foreign propaganda news, arguing that “it is imperative that leaders in both the private and public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”

While it’s true that fake news appears to have circulated widely in Trump-friendly corners of the internet — possibly with some assistance from the Russian government — the idea that fake news was central to the outcome of the campaign has little basis in fact. The very nature of viral fake news is that it’s mostly likely to be shared by people who have already bought into a partisan or ideological worldview, with pro-Trump fake news largely shared by Trump supporters to other Trump supporters. [Continue reading…]

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