Dec 30, 2017

Trump effect: a worldwide "fake news" crisis

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Donald Trump in one year has done more to discredit and diminish truth, facts and media than any other figure in our lifetime.

You might love his middle finger to the media. But even the strongest of Trump backers should think long and hard about a world without facts and common truths.

His techniques — especially claiming bad or unwanted news is "fake news" — are getting copied worldwide, just as evil actors like Russia are getting better at spreading misinformation. Here's a snapshot:

  • Despots use fake news as a weapon: Leaders or state media in at least 15 countries have used the term "fake news" to try to quell dissent or defuse questions about human rights violations.
  • In the U.S.: Within seconds of any major attack or shooting, fake news (real fake news: news that is actually false) starts circulating about the suspect and victims, forcing tech platforms to apologize for surfacing news from faulty sources — think Vegas shooting, Times Square subway bombing, etc.
  • Elsewhere in the West: In Spain, Russian state-backed news organizations and bots "promoted digital misinformation and outright fake news" about the politically charged vote in Catalonia, according to the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. That's in addition to fake news campaigns to meddle with elections this year in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany.
  • In the East: In India, the Washington Post reported, false information spread through Facebook-owned WhatsApp has become "a part of everyday life," leading to violence, as well as religious and caste tensions. Similar fake news problems are happening on WhatsApp in Myanmar.
  • Fake news via messaging (especially Facebook-owned Messenger) has become a major global problem. More people use messaging apps globally than social media apps, and Facebook has hardly addressed the messaging fake news epidemic.
  • It's gotten so bad that fake news will be the Pope's theme for his annual World Communications Day, coming in May.
  • Regulators around the world are beginning to take the problem seriously. Communications enforcers in the U.S., U.K., South Africa and elsewhere are all looking at ways to crack down on the problem, without inhibiting free speech.
  • Regimes like those in China and Russia turn to censorship, with government-run media spewing propaganda — another form of actual fake news.

Be smart: We can't say it too often: The real problem with fake news is that people don't believe real news. That's terrible for society and democracy, making good decisions less likely.

The Axios "Facts Matter" series illuminates facts that are just facts. This year, that obvious notion became a revelation.

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The second bullet has been corrected to say the bombing was at the Port Authority, not Grand Central.

Go deeper

Trump accuses Twitter of interfering in 2020 election

President Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

President Trump responded via tweets Tuesday evening to Twitter fact-checking him for the first time on his earlier unsubstantiated posts claiming mail-in ballots in November's election would be fraudulent.

What he's saying: "Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post," the president tweeted. "Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!"

Editor's note: This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 5,559,130 — Total deaths: 348,610 — Total recoveries — 2,277,087Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 1,679,419 — Total deaths: 98,852 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: CDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets for first time

President Trump briefs reporters in the Rose Garden on May 26. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter fact-checked two of President Trump's unsubstantiated tweets that mail-in ballots in the 2020 election would be fraudulent for the first time on Tuesday, directing users to "get the facts" through news stories that cover the topic.

Why it matters: Twitter and other social media platforms have faced criticism for not doing enough to combat misinformation, especially when its propagated by the president.