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PolitiFact's Lie Of The Year: Fake News

Dec 14, 2016

It's not over yet, but 2016 has already been one of the "newsiest" years in recent memory. But a lot of the news turned out to be fake. WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Katie Sanders of PolitiFact Florida to talk about their Lie of the Year.

This year has been a banner one for the news business. The presidential election, the surprise result, the ongoing wrangling over which way the country could be turning - and a lot this news, well, it wasn't true. So that takes us to the 2016 PolitiFact Lie of the Year.

It's... drum roll please... fake news.

Fake news: Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.

Fake news: Democrats want to impose Islamic law in Florida.

Fake news: Thousands of people at a Donald Trump rally in Manhattan chanted, "We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back."

None of those stories – and there are so many more like them – is remotely true.

Here's a part of PolitiFact's story:

Because of its powerful symbolism in an election year filled with rampant and outrageous lying -- PolitiFact is naming Fake News the 2016 "winner."

Oxford Dictionaries selected "post-truth" as its word of the year and defined it as the state of affairs when "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Fake news is the boldest sign of a post-truth society. When we can’t agree on basic facts -- or even that there are such things as facts -- how do we talk to each other?

It’s a media ecosystem where "everything is true and nothing is true," said President Barack Obama in an postelection interview with the New Yorker. "And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation," he said.

For those who care about accuracy and evidence, it’s time to recognize that something really has gone off course.

What made 2016 different

Bad information has always lived online. Before fake news, there were electronic message boards where people shared conspiracy theories and emails instructing you to FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!! Before the computer, there were anonymous pamphlets and chain letters sent through the mail.

But in 2016, most viral lies spread on Facebook. They were reinforced by Google searches, in which stories from dubious sites jumped to the top of your screen based on traffic.

Bad actors would create fictitious Web pages that people couldn’t resist sharing: claims that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump, or that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS, or that she helped fund ISIS. (None of those things is true.)

The popular website BuzzFeed analyzed the interest in these fake stories and found that they got more shares, reactions and comments during the final three months of the campaign than real stories from the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, for example.