There has been a lot of news on...news, lately. Specifically, fake news. Facebook is tackling it. Facebook's employees are tackling it. Google is piling on. All because so many were surprised by the results of the U.S. Presidential Election, and people are looking for something--anything--to explain how they could have been so blindsided.
I'm not going to claim that fake news had no impact on the election. I am sure there is some marginal correlation to be made. But the belief that fake news had a material impact on the outcome is simply not borne out by decades of election research.
I spent Election Day 2016 the same way I've spent every U.S. election since 2004--looking at precinct-level data from both our exit polling and the actual vote count. And here is what I can tell you--our "50/50" country is not really evenly divided. It's the average of precinct-after-precinct of homogeneous neighborhoods that mainly vote the same way. I saw precincts that went 91% for Trump, and some that went 93% for Clinton. And this election is no different than the last several have been in that regard. In 2012, for example, there were 9 precincts in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland) that cast zero votes for Romney. And more than fifty in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, that did the same!
We are surrounded by people who voted the same way that we did--not just in our Facebook feed, but at Whole Foods, and our local Cracker Barrel. That's the cold hard truth of the American electorate. That 50/50 coin flip finish is the average of thousands of precincts that aren't close at all. When you gather in social settings with friends, it is very, very likely that you aren't speaking with people who voted differently than you did, feel differently about the issues than you, or shared news items on their Facebook feed that fairly represented the opposing view.
In short, we might have shared a lot of fake news, but we shared it in support of an opinion we already strongly held, to an audience of friends who also shared that opinion. "Fake News" was less about swaying hearts and minds than it was about providing post-decision rationalization to hearts and minds already swayed.
I think you know this to be true.
The issue is not how much fake news was shared. The issue is how readily we wanted to believe that news, and why. Facebook can't fix that. Only you can.