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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The media and its gatekeepers have managed to make themselves a central story in the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: This is especially true on cable news, where mentions of terms like "misinformation" and "disinformation" have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, surpassing mentions of issues voters typically say they care about like "social security," "climate change," and "immigration."

Data: Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • The data, from the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer, measures minutes mentioned of issues by network over time, going back to 2010.

The number of stories online about media disinformation and bias surged from September to October, according to data from traffic analytics company Parse.ly.

  • 131% uptick in articles published about "media bias."
  • 50%+ uptick in articles published about disinformation and censorship.

That was paired with a viewership surge:

  • 717% increase in views on stories related to disinformation.
  • 357% increase in views on stories about censorship.
  • 204% more views on stories about media bias.

The big picture: Much of that conversation has been driven by President Trump, who has focused much of his campaign rhetoric around targeting the media.

  • An Axios analysis found that "fake news" has been the most consistent topic amongst Trump's ad spend on Facebook all year.
  • Trump's campaign and key allies planned to make bias allegations by social platforms a core part of their 2020 strategy, officials told Axios last year.
  • Conservatives in particular seemed to have latched onto the themes of social media bias and censorship as a key talking point this election.

Between the lines: As Axios noted last year, disagreements about how to apply free speech to the speed and scale of social media have consumed political debate this election cycle, contributing to extreme levels of polarization.

  • A majority of Americans (73%) say voters in both parties “cannot agree on the basic facts," according to Pew Research Center.
  • That debate has touched everything from whether to ban political ads with misinformation, to how to verify whether a story from a traditional news outlet should be stifled if its claims can't be vetted.

The bottom line: Free speech and media bias rarely appear as an important issue among voters.

  • Data from Newswhip shows that while social media engagement with articles around these topics has increased since the last election, it's much lower relatively to articles with hot takes around news of the day.
  • Still, there have been a few times where stories about media and social media bias, like the week following the Hunter Biden emails saga, have attracted huge social media attention online.

Yes, but: Journalists have focused on covering misinformation as a defensive maneuver against Trump's "fake news" charge. These controversies may crowd out topics important to voters — but for the news media, they may be unavoidable.

Go deeper

Conservatives warn culture, political wars will worsen

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The verdict is clear: The vast majority of Republicans will stand firm with former President Trump. The next phase is clear, too: Republicans are rallying around a common grievance that big government, big media and big business are trying to shut them up, shut them out and shut them down. 

Why it matters: The post-Trump GOP, especially its most powerful media platforms, paint the new reality as an existential threat. This means political attacks are seen — or characterized — as assaults on their very being. 

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker