Hillary Clinton was the choice of nearly every American newspaper editorial board. It didn?t matter.
When it comes to influencing public opinion, the 2016 presidential election demonstrated with sobering effect the weakening role of traditional media and the ascendant power of social networks like Facebook.
Forty-four percent of Americans get their news from Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center, filling a void left by the declining ranks of newspapers. By comparison, only 2 in 10 U.S. adults get news from print newspapers today.
The consequences of Facebook?s growing sway became clear during an election cycle that saw the rise of partisan news, conspiracies, fake articles and a winning candidate who fully embraced social media as a way to circumvent the media establishment and its proclivity for checking facts.
The problem with rumors and fake news grew so acute that President Barack Obama felt the need to address it at a Clinton rally Monday in Michigan.
?And people, if they just repeat attacks enough, and outright lies over and over again, as long as it?s on Facebook and people can see it, as long as it?s on social media, people start believing it. And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense,? he said.
The question now is whether Facebook and other social media platforms have the responsibility to stop, or at least identify to readers, phony news. That?s eliciting some reflection in Silicon Valley, which has always advocated a laissez faire approach to information.
In a widely shared video Wednesday, Dave McClure, founder of the business accelerator 500 Startups, went on an expletive-laden tirade about technology and President-elect Donald Trump?s victory at a tech summit in Lisbon, Portugal.
?Technology has a role in that we ? provide communication platforms for the rest of the (expletive) country and we are allowing (expletive) to happen like the cable news networks. ? It?s a propaganda medium. People aren?t aware of the (expletive) they?re being told.?
In a phone interview later, McClure challenged other entrepreneurs to live up to the industry cliche of making the world a better place.
?We have to support the well-being of society,? McClure said. ?With great power comes great responsibility. These are platforms with hundreds of millions of people.?
Even backers of Reddit, a sprawling network of user-generated forums that bills itself as the ?front page of the internet,? are having second thoughts about an ecosystem that prizes virality and offers little reward for accuracy.
?Back when Reddit was first started, I thought their cheeky tag line ?freedom from the press? was all to the good,? said Paul Graham, co-founder of tech incubator Y-Combinator and the first investor in Reddit. ?Now I worry about where we?re headed.?
?Technological change is mostly inevitable,? Graham continued. ?I don?t think we could have avoided what?s happened. Often when technology causes a problem, it also hands you a solution. I?m hoping that will be the case here. But I?m damned if I know what it is.?
Facebook has long argued that its news feed is a reflection of a user?s wider world. Over the summer, the company changed its news feed algorithm to deliver more posts from friends and family rather than articles. The company said Wednesday it would continue to tweak its news feed algorithm, but declined to address bogus journalism on its platform.
?While Facebook played a part in this election, it was just one of many ways people received their information ? and was one of the many ways people connected with their leaders, engaged in the political process and shared their views,? a Facebook spokeswoman said.
The internet has always been home to fringe ideas and hoaxes, of course, but rarely have they been bolstered by an all-consuming topic like this year?s election and powerful social media platforms to fan the flames.
Facebook reported that 115.3 million users generated 716.3 million posts, likes and comments about the election. Meanwhile, Twitter said it registered more than 75 million election-related tweets on election day, about two-and-a-half times more than it did on Election Day in 2012.
The staggering election-related activity on Facebook comes at a time when the social network has been littered with thousands of fake stories with headlines like ?FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE? from fake news organizations with reputable-sounding names such as the Denver Guardian.
Last week, BuzzFeed reported on teens in Macedonia who churn out hundreds of politically charged make-believe articles for American audiences, reaping the digital advertising revenue from hundreds of thousands of shares.
The article noted that a fake story from Macedonia headlined, ?Hillary Clinton In 2013: ?I Would Like To See People Like Donald Trump Run For Office; They?re Honest And Can?t Be Bought,?? garnered 480,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. That?s nearly three times the Facebook interactions the New York Times got for its scoop about Donald Trump declaring $916 million in losses on his 1995 income tax returns, the BuzzFeed story said.