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Explained: The Disinformation Phenomenon Through the 2016 US Presidential Election

There have been 760 million instances of a person reading a fake news story which translates into three stories read per American adult

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Ekaterina Mouromtseva
Ekaterina Mouromtseva
Behavioural and Social Sciences student covering France, Spain and Russia

UNITED STATES: In the 21st century, the information disorder phenomenon has been seen as highly prevalent in spreading mal-information, disinformation, and misinformation. It has radically affected sectors such as global politics and can be particularly analyzed with the 2016 US presidential election of Donald Trump. 

Historically, this has never been an issue until now as it has changed with the introduction of social media, and alongside it the psychological theory of the “sharing phenomenon” that introduces concepts such as the sharing of article headlines without reading the content. Social media platforms have now weaponized information on an unprecedented scale. 

The psychology behind the market of fake news  

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Fake news articles can be defined as news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers. On social media platforms, content is not filtered or analyzed by any third parties and therefore the spread of disinformation is prevalent in these areas.

It is claimed that 62 percent of US adults get news on social media. The most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories.  

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A study conducted post the 2016 US Presidential election with US citizens has confirmed the phenomenon. The results stated that most people believe the fake news that they are reading and that most of them did favor, Donald Trump, over Clinton. Fake news arises in equilibrium because it is an inexpensive provider and also because people indulge in partisan news.

There have been 760 million instances of a person reading a fake news story which translates into three stories read per American adult. Due to the constantly increasing amount of information, our brain compromises and we turn to shortcuts, thus reading and sharing the headline instead of the whole article. This is the result of the sharing phenomenon. 

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Another theory suggests the concept of optimism bias, which is the assumption that the future will be far more promising than the current signs make it seem. This also aided in the spreading of fake news and the ignorance of it. It provided a market for fake news, as people had a tendency not to bother looking into the misinformation, in hopes that the election would turn out in their favor. 

The impact of fake news on voter’s psychology during the 2016 election

The concept of an informed electorate was ignored during the 2016 election. Instead, voters seemed to have made choices using heuristic reasoning and accessibility dynamics. 

Heuristic reasoning is not based on fact but rather on the association, to create a voting attitude and choice. Accessibility dynamics is based on top of the head ideas and is mainly focused on exposure to such ideas rather than their actual value and content, it can thus affect our decisions in a biased manner. 

Our confirmation bias, which is the beliefs we hold already affect how we process and assimilate new information, had an impact. It showed that Trump supporters stayed on his side disregarding the facts that they were presented with.

During the Presidential debates, success was measured by the behavior attributes rather than the content of the speeches. The use of irrelevant heuristics that Hilary Clinton was subjected to is also important. Her associations with different investigations portrayed her as dishonest and tricky, in turn, she lost innocence in the eyes of the public. 

Another main discussion point is what the election seemed to be about – and this was immigration. The agenda for Trump was to essentially ban immigration from Latino and Muslim countries. The news outlet Breitbart played an immense role by producing its own immigration stories but also acting as a source of stories and as the center of attention among social media users.

Due to the agenda being about immigration, it aided in pushing Trump’s campaign along as his policies were against the issue, and most articles that were circulated put it in a negative light.

Also Read: Watch: How President Joe Biden Defeated Donald Trump 


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