Fake news has been around as long as people have been telling lies. (The Fake News article in Wikipedia provides historical examples back to the 13th century BCE!)
So, what IS new? Why is fake news such a hot topic now? Are we more vulnerable? Is it because of Russian interference and the election?
Factors that have influenced the proliferation of fake news:
- Media proliferation. The barrier to entry into the media market is lower. It is easy to put up a Web site and easy to monetize it through advertising. This fuels sensationalized (National Enquirer type) news -- anything that will get you to click. Example: teenagers in Macedonia)
- Echo chambers
- Social Media is the perfect platform for spreading Fake News. It reinforces our own confirmation bias and spreads news within our own “echo” chamber. Fake News spreads more on social media than it does in the “mainstream” media (Buzzfeed chart). Could it also be the right platform to combat Fake News?
- Personalized Web (Filter Bubble) , such as tailored search engine results, directed ads that we see on web sites, etc.
- Declining trust in the Media (and perhaps institutions in general). Is this a both a cause and an effect? See the Gallup poll on Americans' Trust in Mass Media. The bad news: younger people are especially distrustful of media. (See also the results of a Harvard poll reported in The Hill.)
- Political polarization. We believe fake news about the other side: Republicans are more likely to believe that Obama was not born in the US; Democrats are more likely to believe that George W. Bush was complicit in 9/11. (See the journal article: Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow.)