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Fake news: An analysis a year after the US election

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Donald Trump has clearly made us perceive news differently. It all started immediately, with claims that his election was based not only on manipulative speeches but also on online algorithms that go far beyond our understanding.

One year after, he has made “fake news” a phenomenon through accusations on Twitter, false claims, and invented numbers. For instance, he deliberately stated that last year’s unemployment rate of 4.7% was not real- according to him, it was up to 42% when, in fact, that inflated figure would have to include students, retirees, and stay-at-home parents.

He is well-known for constantly criticising the press and journalists or political opponents for not being transparent, going as far as calling every negative poll fake. Naturally, it is all very convenient for the message he wants to spread but whether this constitutes a real threat to democracy and how can it be stopped, we are still unable to find out.

One thing is certain: he is undoubtedly a great speaker and whatever he says, true or false, has an impact. We are now used to his rich rhetoric and polemic accusations, but that does not mean we are getting smarter. Happily, for politicians, there are still overwhelmingly huge masses of people who automatically believe in everything they read or watch. That is why "fake news" still exists (and tends to increase)- because there is a market for it, we still buy it, we are still weak enough to be influenced.

Distorted information can be appealing, one clear example of this being the fact that after Trump’s election, fake news generated more engagement on Facebook than news from 19 major news outlets combined, according to a BuzzFeed analysis. Let’s not be misled, the US president did not create fake news, he just amplified its' use and highlighted the issue that major news corporations and online organizations must face.

However, it always existed, we were simply unaware of it. Since his first day in the office, he has been showing us how fake news is generated not only by random, seemingly harmless websites but also by all politicians who concentrate in their hands the power to manipulate society and who are supposedly the ones we can trust to govern nations.

Scepticism has increased. Society is afraid, especially because there is nothing we can do about it. Whatever our thoughts or aims are, we will remain impotent and keep watching fake news being spread on TV, reading them online, buying them, being manipulated. Whether we should or should not trust political websites at all, that is a matter of discussion and that is when we, as an audience, realise how hopelessly powerless we are.

This year, Buzzfeed has released a dossier containing unverified information about ties between the Russian government and Donald Trump. This generated an immediate response from the president, calling the corporation a “failing pile of garbage” but, most importantly, a massive discussion on how open should journalism be and whether the public should have access to explosive but unverified stories or simply facts.

None of us want to be misled, I suppose, but we still are.

Online media is the most effective way of making fake news circulate at the speed of light. Remember this: fake news is out there, everywhere, especially online. The internet is the best place for any fringe group to have their moment of fame and power. And regardless of their knowledge or content posted, it works.

Some people will still believe everything they read. The source is not relevant. If they read it on twitter, they automatically take it as truth. Freedom has its setbacks. Now that Trump is the president of one of the most powerful nations, he can do everything with the media, including blaming news corporations for unfavourable news stories and spreading wrong data to back up outrageous arguments.

We all remember when he refused to answer CNN’s question during a press conference, calling it “fake news” and a “terrible organisation” due to the release of classified documents with allegations that Russia had personal and financial information about the US president, speculating a connection between the two nations. These conspiracy theories seem to be somewhat entertaining but, simultaneously, misleading.

Before it all worked in the same way, the only difference is that nobody really cared. Now we, as an audience, do. It might be useless but might as well be a sign of hope. Awareness is always the first solution to the problem. The next solution is making politicians give up on manipulating society with their flowery language and apparent straightforwardness in order to win votes and support, which is, let’s be honest, impossible.

Trump is changing the credibility of news and bringing up a fired debate on journalism ethics, which seems to me, ironic, to say the least, as we all know he is the king of fake news and doubtful allegations. Will this ever end? The tendency is clear but the future is dreadfully uncertain and we are going to be here to slowly find it out.

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