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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.

Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our smart brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.

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

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
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Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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