The strategic use of social media in U.S politics is once again an important factor in deciding which candidate goes to the White House. In 2008, a smart Facebook’s utilization partly helped secure the oval office for America’s first black president Barack Obama. But the 2016 presidential election proved how the goodies of social media can be nefarious to an aspiring candidate. This year like four years ago, lies and character assassination continue to fuel the dissemination of fake news in social media platforms as the race to the presidency peaks.
The surge of misleading fake news on social media in the 2020 United States presidential campaign between President Donald J. Trump and the former Vice President Joe Biden is surging once again. As recent as last month’s presidential debate, Trump’s campaign’s team waged fake news political tricks on twitter and Facebook, lying about his opponent.
“In the last debate, there was a rumour going around that was completely unfounded that Joe Biden had been using an earpiece in the debate. The Trump campaign very quickly put up this ad, I think in order to capitalize on that rumour. It Photoshopped an air pod, a little listening device, a headphone into his ear. You can look at that ad and say, this is obviously fake, they’re doing it to make a joke, but there have been many more dangerous and dark accusations that have just spread through social media,” said Joanna Weiss, contributing editor, Politico Magazine.
Discussing the subject ‘role of TV ADS and Social Media,’ she told journalists covering the U.S election that a lot of it comes in the form of fake news sites that look like a real news site, but the actual news organization doesn’t exist.
“They spread really dark stories that are untrue. In the last cycle there were stories about how Hillary Clinton had murdered people, not true, but can spread through Facebook. There were stories a couple of years ago about how Donald Trump’s grandfather was a member of a white supremacy group, also not true, but shared on Facebook,” Weiss told journalists.
According to her, Facebook has been very reluctant to crack down on this misinformation, adding that their approach to how to handle it has evolved over the years, but they’ve been very slow at the very least to crack down.
“That has drawn increased scrutiny from everyone from the public to Congress. I think honestly, they have stumbled a lot on their response, they basically have been saying that free speech is free speech and they would prefer for voters to be able to see everything rather than have it censored. But under increasing pressure, the social media platforms have been trying to put some of their own restrictions in place.”
While Twitter announced about a year ago that it would ban all political advertising up to the 2020 election, she said Facebook makes a lot more money than Twitter in general on political advertising, so the stakes for that were much higher for them, and it took them a lot longer to do so. However, she said Facebook also has recently announced that one week before the November 3rd election, they will not accept new political ads.
‘Fake news, a big threat
“I think it’s a pretty big threat. That was a big concern coming out in 2016. Again, hard to know for sure how many people saw Ads that had fake information and acted on it. So, it is very difficult for these social media platforms to stay on top of misinformation which is I think part of the reason why they have reluctantly decided to just shut down advertising at a certain point.
Trump vs. Twitter and Facebook
In August, Twitter and Facebook took down Trump posts citing violations of policy. The two social media giants flagged and later blocked a video in which Trump claimed children are almost immune to COVID-19, which is a heated subject to determine this year’s election.
“The video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19, which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” a Facebook spokesperson said, adding it was the first time Facebook had removed a Trump post for coronavirus misinformation. Trump is largely criticized for his handling of the pandemic which infected over 8 million and killed 221, 843 thousand Americans as of today, by playing down the dangers of the virus.
Study shows more than 600 fake news
Knight Foundation commissioned a study to investigate how fake news spread on the platform before, during and after the 2016 U.S presidential election. The study examined more than 10 million tweets from 700, 000 Twitter accounts that linked to more than 600 fake and conspiracy news.
However, social media is a major player in present-day American politics. Political parties in the U.S including the Democrats and Republicans have been extensively exploiting it to sell their candidatures to electorates creating some shift from exclusive traditional media like television ads to the new media.
What happens to those TV ads?
“Well, they’re still around,” said Weiss. “They remain an important part of campaigning, those 30 and 60 second nuggets, because they’re such an effective way to send a message and because they are such an effective way to provoke emotion.
She cited one advantage – the ability for television ads to be displayed both on the screens and on their social media sites for free. Among the leading televisions in the U.S which still receive big spends in TV markets include cable news, CNN, Fox, MSNBC.