The Influence of Fake News

In September of 2016, the fake news website www.abcnews.com.co published an article about Obama's apparent executive order ending federal recognition of the pledge of allegiance and placing restrictions on its use in federal buildings. The story was shared about 2.1 million times on Facebook alone and was among the most pervasive fake news stories of the decade. Of course, this story was a complete fabrication but it is a perfect example of how as more and more Americans get their news from social media, and journalistic integrity and validity are harder to verify, sensationalistic fake news stories like this one can spread like wildfire and do a lot of damage before they are put out.

(Roberts)

The article in question shows a very official-looking image of former President Barack Obama and other important figures like the then Vice President Joe Biden looking over Obama’s signing of an executive order. The Article goes on to explain that the executive order in question was an official ban of federal usage of the pledge of allegiance. This fake news story gained more traction than most because of its seemingly official source: www.abcnews.com.co a fake news website that covers itself in a veneer of credibility by disguising itself as the real ABC News. The story spread through many circles primarily on Facebook and ended up being shared over 2 million times. Despite the spread of this particular hoax, this wasn’t even the first time the lie that Obama was banning the pledge had been spread on the internet or even the first time the lie had come from the same website(Snopes). Despite the many previous attempts fizzling out unsuccessfully, this attempt seemed to strike at the right time to take off and wreak havoc on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

This story appears to have been manufactured with the malicious intent of damaging the President’s reputation and although it was quickly debunked by every fact-checking organization under the sun and even social media websites like Facebook, it still reached its target audience and had its intended effect, hateful groups on the internet began circulating the story and it was not too long until posts and stories based on the original hoax were being shared themselves:

(Palmer)

This story is the perfect example of the spread of misinformation that social media often facilitates. The original story was built on easily disprovable lies such as that the supposed pledge banning Executive Order 13738 had nothing to do with the pledge and instead had to do with the government’s dealings with private contractors. Despite the flagrant lies pushed in the original story most Facebook users did not do their own research before sharing the story with their friends. This worrying phenomenon of valuing sensationalism over integrity for the sake of outrage is detrimental to the future of journalism and the truth and represents what will become one of the defining challenges of our generation: combating misinformation and agreeing on what is true.

Despite the spread of these types of stories it is actually quite simple to stop them, if we all do our part to verify the stories we are sharing we can stop dishonest stories from doing more harm than they need to and we can make sure their perpetrators can’t accomplish their goals.

Sources:

“FALSE: Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide.” Snopes.com, 18 Dec. 2016, www.snopes.com/fact-check/pledge-of-allegiance-ban/.

Palmer, Thomas. “Commentary: A New York Times Picture Worth a Thousand Lies.” Times Union, Times Union, 25 Feb. 2018, www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Commentary-A-New-York-Times-picture-worth-a-12706740.php.

Roberts, Hannah. “This Is What Fake News Actually Looks like — We Ranked 11 Election Stories That Went Viral on Facebook.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 17 Nov. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/fake-presidential-election-news-viral-facebook-trump-clinton-2016-11#1-obama-signs-a-nationwide-order-banning-the-pledge-of-allegiance-in-schools-11.