Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) was worried about this, and so was traditional media. Bogus news sites had more traffic than legitimate ones late in the election cycle, according to a survey done by BuzzFeed:
A BuzzFeed News analysis found that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.
The sites examined were among the most traditionally trusted news sites in the world:
To examine the performance of election content from mainstream sites, we created a list that included the websites of the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, USA Today, Politico, CNN, Wall Street Journal, CBS News, ABC News, New York Daily News, New York Post, BuzzFeed, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Guardian, Vox, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and Fox News. We then searched for their top-performing election content in the same three-month segments as above.
It is frightening to examine the extent to which false stories did well, and the fact that many came from virtually unknown sources:
One example is the remarkably successful, utterly untrustworthy site Ending the Fed. It was responsible for four of the top 10 false election stories identified in the analysis: Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, Hillary Clinton being disqualified from holding federal office, and the FBI director receiving millions from the Clinton Foundation. These four stories racked up a total of roughly 2,953,000 Facebook engagements in the three months leading up to Election Day.
The analysis, unfortunately, also points to how gullible and uneducated many Americans are, a particularly unfortunate trend leading up to a national election.