There is an enormous amount of crazy-sounding news right now.
President Donald Trump really did set off a diplomatic crisis with Australia, possibly out of personal exhaustion. The White House really did fail to mention Jews in their statement commemorating the Holocaust—and then, bizarrely, refuse to even recognize the error in the following days. And the president somehow incited a feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger during the National Prayer Breakfast.
If progressives are looking to be shocked, terrified, or incensed, they have plenty of options. Yet in the past two weeks, many have turned to a different avenue: They have shared “fake news,” online stories that look like real journalism but are full of fables and falsehoods.
It’s a funny reversal of the situation from November. In the weeks after the election, the press chastised conservative Facebook users for sharing stories that had nothing to do with reality. Hundreds of thousands of people shared stories asserting incorrectly that President Obama had banned the pledge of allegiance in public schools, that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, and that Trump had dispatched his personal plane to save 200 starving marines.
The phenomenon seemed to confirm theorists’ worst fears about the internet. Given the choice, democratic citizens will not seek out news that challenges their beliefs; instead, they will opt for content that confirms their suspicions. A BuzzFeed News analysis found that the top 20 fake-news stories “outperformed” the top 20 real-news stories on Facebook in the three months before the election, meaning they generated more shares, comments, and reactions.* A follow-up survey suggested that most Americans believed fake news after seeing it on Facebook. When held to the laissez faire editorial standards of Facebook, the market of ideas fails.