The Three Most Believed Fake News Stories of the Election (Tested by Stanford) Favored Hillary

In a piece repeating erroneous BuzzFeed reporting, the Atlantic expresses concern that the left is now sharing fake news stories just like the right shared them during the election.

If progressives are looking to be shocked, terrified, or incensed, they have plenty of options. Yet in the past two weeks, many have turned to a different avenue: They have shared “fake news,” online stories that look like real journalism but are full of fables and falsehoods.It’s a funny reversal of the situation from November. In the weeks after the election, the press chastised conservative Facebook users for sharing stories that had nothing to do with reality. Hundreds of thousands of people shared stories asserting incorrectly that President Obama had banned the pledge of allegiance in public schools, that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, and that Trump had dispatched his personal plane to save 200 starving marines.
The phenomenon seemed to confirm theorists’ worst fears about the internet. Given the choice, democratic citizens will not seek out news that challenges their beliefs;  instead, they will opt for content that confirms their suspicions. A BuzzFeed News investigation found that more people shared these fake stories than shared real news in the three months before the election. A follow-up survey suggested that most Americans believed fake news after seeing it on Facebook. When held to the laissez faire editorial standards of Facebook, the market of ideas fails.

As I laid out, BuzzFeed’s claim that most Americans believe fake news was not what BuzzFeed’s poll actually showed; rather, it showed that those who remember fake stories believe them, but that works out to be a small fraction of the people who see the story. And this piece is one of many that points out some methodological problems with BuzzFeed’s count of fake news sharing.

The Atlantic then goes onto cite stuff (like the @AltNatParSer and @RoguePOTUSStaff) that is not verified but might be true but in any case is critique as the left’s new habit of fake news.

All that said, the Atlantic is right that the left can be sucked in by not-true news — but that was true during the election, too. Consider this Stanford study that, generally, found that fake news wasn’t as impactful as often claimed.

We estimate that in order for fake news to have changed the election result, the average fake story would need to have f ≈ 0.0073, making it about as persuasive as 36 television campaign ads.

Buried deep inside the story is a detail one or two people have noted, but not mentioned prominently. Among the fake news stories studied by the authors (which were limited to stories debunked at places like Snopes, which is a significant limit to the study), two stories favorable to Hillary were the most believed.

Blue here is the percentage of the US adult population that believed a story and red is being “not sure.” Both if you aggregate those two categories and if you take only those who affirmatively say they believed something, this story — claiming Congressman Jeff Denham helped broker Trump’s deal for the Trump Hotel in DC — and this story — repeating Kurt Eichenwald’s claim that he had proof WikiLeaks led all the fake stories Stanford tested, with close to 30% definitely believing both (see my post on that story). This story claiming Clinton paid Beyonce for a campaign appearance was the most-believed anti-Hillary story, which came after a third Hillary-friendly story claiming Trump was going to deport Lin Manuel-Miranda (note, as also shown in other studies, the fake news stories weren’t recalled or believed at the same rates as the true ones, though in the aggregate, the Denham story rivaled “small true” stories).

Note, the Stanford study did not test this story, which also claimed Wikileaks had doctored emails. It appeared on the same Clinton site three days earlier, which was itself based off a fake news created by a Hillary supporter (with some spooky ties), and magnified by Malcolm Nance and Joy Reid. Those two stories likely reinforced each other.

I’m interested in both of these stories — in part, because the reality about Trump’s corruption and his ties to Russia are both bad enough, without Democratic operatives inventing stories about it. But obviously, I’m particularly interested in the latter, in part because so even in spite of the real evidence implicating Russia in the hack of the DNC, Democrats tend to believe anything involving Russia without evidence.

That’s ironic, given that the risk of fake news is supposed to stem from Putin poisoning our airwaves.

Update: I’ve added “three” to the title because a number of people said it would make it more clear. Thanks to those who suggested it.

34 replies
    • FACTS says:

      Liberals are progressivism’s strongest and most effective supporters. The difference between them and the hard left is that they support an economic ideology that’s actually capable of success and isn’t historically linked to incompetence and genocide

      • lefty665 says:

        More false news pseudo “Facts”. Thanks for illustrating the problem. Liberals have not been running the Dems for at least 25 years.

        Neo-Liberals came to power with Bill in ’92 as right wing, DLC, triangulating, Repub wanna be “New Dems”. They have been running the Party, and will continue to until there is a Dem return to sanity and massive purge. They sold their souls to Wall Street and the .1% long ago. The culmination of their debacle so far is Hillary’s loss that was in large part due to corruption, greed and her elite Neo-Lib politics.

        There is precious little evidence that Neo-Liberalism is “capable of success” for any but the elites and Wall St fat cats. The revolt of middle America in this election after almost 40 years of stagnant wages and loss of middle class security demonstrates that. The economically successful New Deal and Dem embrace of the people of America lasted for close to 50 years before it was abandoned by the Party and the fat cat Neo-Lib elites who have come to run it.

        It is profoundly ironic that the populist mantle the Dems abandoned was picked up by a billionaire who rode it to the White House. That is also a measure of the failure of Neo-Liberalism as a viable economic policy.

  1. Avattoir says:

    I think this dampens your point: in order to put meaningful value on the Stanford study, it’s necessary to know the distribution of the red and blue lines across the political geography.

    If the bulk of those represented in blue comprise folks in California, the upper NE & NW, Minnesota, Illinois, etc.,  whereas the bulk of red liners reside in a larger number of states (including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvannia & Wisconsin) that cumulatively secure a virtual majority of Electoral Votes, the impression from looking at no more than the length of the lines is misleading – at least.

    Today Atrios has a post about the variation of genocide he perceives in Trump’s immigration ban. I think that extends to far wider Republican  agenda: for years, Rs have been, still are (& it’s now heated up to core melting levels) engaged in a variety of ‘herding’ projects. Some involve ‘urging’ non-whites out of key states (see Michigan etc. above). Others involve ‘urging’ non-whites away from voting (see Dixie as the ‘ideal’, factor in Texas and above the Panhandle, and now consider the fight going on now most overtly in NC, but in progress in Michigin etc. above).

    The Trump win last November wasn’t a fluke: it was the case of a larger plan being so ‘sound’, it could survive the GOP not very strenuously failing at being hijacked by a ‘challenging’ nominee. Seen in that light, Trump’s being in WH now simply emphasizes that white supremacy is so secure in its hegemony, it no longer even needs to resort to any pretense to civilization let alone civics.

    Canada and Eire are not unreasonable choices.

    • bmaz says:

      I am inclined to agree

      Not just with the first part, but the second. But do fear any of those climes will be awfully chilly.

      • Avattoir says:

        The lower mainland around Vancouver and the southern tip of Vancouver Island aren’t really different for Seattle, or the SFBay area most days. Calgary’s better suited to a sudden huge expansion – a proven history of adapting to those; but it’s mostly cold November through April, even with their half dozen or so per winters Chinook winds. The so-called Golden Triangle of Ontario province, from London in the west to Toronto to the northeast and Hamilton to the southeast, has a climate and weather patterns not really distinguishable from northern Michigan and NY state (assuming those are at tolerable).

        I resist the notion of Eire having any markedly ‘better’ climate or weather than SE B.C. Canada; I base this on having spent a lot of time in both.

        • bmaz says:

          I have only been there as a visitor. But I very much loved so much the Victoria/Vancouver Island/Bainbridge areas where we were. Spectacular. And then Vancouver proper.

          Again, spectacular. I would live there in a heartbeat given the chance. Seattle too. Been a lot of places, and do not say that often.

        • martin says:

          “The so-called Golden Triangle of Ontario province, from London in the west to Toronto to the northeast and Hamilton to the southeast, has a climate and weather patterns not really distinguishable from northern Michigan and NY state (assuming those are at tolerable).”

          Tolerable is in the feet of the beholder.  I live in NorthCentral Michigan. Most fucked miserable ugly state I’ve ever lived in. Come spring…outta here. Btw, how do you know those places in Canada are not really distinguishable from northern Michigan/NY, as you ASSUME their tolerable? God I hate that kind of bullshit.

          • bmaz says:

            Then where will you head? I live where the opposite is true: It is gorgeous this  time of year, but often like hades in the summer.

            Doesn’t phase me so much, but I am an acclimated native. Fully understand while those who are not think otherwise.

          • Avattoir says:

            You appear to read about the same as you write. I made no assertion on whether you, I, or anyone in particular ‘ought to’ find the climate of north Michigan or north NY state OTOH, or southwest Ontario on the other, “tolerable”. I asserted no more than that the first 2 cases compare to the one. As to any your detection of aroma, if so, it must be ambient to where you are.

  2. lefty665 says:

    Seems that Dems are ready to believe anything BAD about Russia. They are not very cognizant of GOOD things.

    Good things like Putin hauling Obama’s butt out of a crack in Syria by convincing Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons. Or, in holding low enriched Iranian uranium out of country after Hillary broke up a deal to have it done in South America.

    The neocons, neolibs and elites want a war with Russia. Anti Russian fake news, propaganda, new McCarthyism and war mongering fills the MSM and social media. The Russians may never be our besties, but where our interests coincide, and there are multiple places that occurs, it behooves us to work with them.  Trump is scary, especially his out of control narcissism. But, if he gets us off the neocon/neolib track to war with Russia he will have achieved more than both Clintons, Duhbya and Obama combined.

    In addition to the neocons/right wing dingbats, Dem elites/establishment are demonizing the Russians using fake news and hysteria to cover their own corrupt bankruptsy and to avoid fundamental reforms that could turn them back into a real Party. The Dem useful idiots seem to be mostly buying it.

    Here is a good recent Robert Parry posting:




  3. Bmaz please post this says:

    Theres a pretty significant mistake/typo in the research paper. Dont know if anyone noticed but one of the graphs/figures shows “37x multiplier” instead of 36 for the equation on the amount of tv campaign ads needed to persuade.

  4. Bob In Portland says:

    On NBC Nightly News last night Andrea Mitchell talked about Russia shelling Ukraine in Eastern Ukraine.

    Since Russia doesn’t have any military units in Donbass, this seems to fall into the fake news category, no? It seems like Mitchell’s script was based on a Ukrainian news story floating around the day before yesterday.

  5. Fool says:

    What do you mean by the fake news creator with “some spooky ties”? (I’ve noticed some spookiness in this area as well — even before they started coming out of the woodwork after HRC’s defeat.)

  6. bevin says:

    “Liberals … support an economic ideology that’s actually capable of success and isn’t historically linked to incompetence and genocide..”
    You mean that they support capitalism, I suppose. Why you think that it “isn’t historically linked to incompetence and genocide” is hard to divine. Presumably you don’t consider genocide to have been practised in North America or South America for that matter, but what do you make of African and Indian history for example?
    Is genocide all a matter of motive to you, so that millions of dead Indo-Chinese don’t count-unless they are Cambodians, killed by the Khmer Rouge?
    And do you not consider the massacres in the Second World War to be genocides? And the economic system in Germany at the time to have been capitalism?
    The truth is that the history of capitalism and imperialism has been a history of unprecedented genocides involving all of the imperialist countries, the Dutch, the French, the British, the Belgians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Germans and, of course, the settlers in both North and South America.
    As to the ‘competence’ of liberal capitalism, by which I assume you mean its success in maintaining decent living standards for the masses, the system lurches from crisis to crisis: how many Americans live beneath the poverty line? How many have assets to see them through a few months of unemployment or ill health ? How many cannot afford to see a doctor or a dentist?

  7. Peterr says:

    How many folks disbelieved the Bowling Green Massacre?

    How many folks believe that Obama was letting just anyone enter the US as a refugee?

    While I share much of the disdain for “fake news,” there’s a certain strain of media that want to paint this as a “both sides do it” thing.  Um, no. See “Foster, Vince, murdered by Hillary Clinton” among other stories.

    • emptywheel says:

      Like me! Because Hillary did do it (in worse ways than have been made public).

      Also, my biggest gripe is with actual journalism (which gets read and retained by far more people) spreading not-true news, whether that be Bret Baier’s indictment scoop or the claim we haven’t intervened in Syria. That’s far more damaging.

      That said, it is true that the right has believed this shit for decades, a period that far, far predates the rise of fake news. But that’s not a fake news problem. It’s a right wing problem.

  8. orionATL says:


    Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election
    Hunt Allcott, New York University and NBER ∗ Matthew Gentzkow,
    Stanford University and NBER January 2017
    We present new evidence on the role of false stories circulated on social media prior to the 2016 US presidential election. Drawing on audience data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we nd: (i) social media was an important but not dominant source of news in the run-up to the election, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their “most important” source of election news; (ii) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared eight million times; (iii) the average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them; (iv) for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads.

    stanford is not known for its liberal approach to governing in the u. s.

    “… (iii) the average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them;… ”

    none of this article by emptywheel addresses or represents the most effective, i. e., effectively misleading, news stories influencing the election. for that we need to know, among others, what cambridge associates did for the trump campaign on facebook the last 3-4weeks of the campaign.

    emptywheel has spent her time since nov 9 attacking democratic activities before and after the election.

    is this just anothef example of emptywheel’s previously (previous to jamuary, 2016) famous integrity?

    or has emptywheel just been kissing trump’s and jeff sessions’ ass in hopes she can continue her career as a national security analyst without hinderance from the justice department?

    or is emptywheel still suffering, with glenn greenwald, from clinton derangement syndrome.

    emptywheel’s tedious, myopic posts about the democratic party’s incompetence/dishonesty reflect her yearlong posts in 2016 and suggest a fixation rather than helpful analysis.

    what a loss!

    • emptywheel says:

      LOL. You’re suggesting I both have done nothing but talk bad about Dems and that I should talk about Cambridge, which I already have.

    • emptywheel says:

      Which I wrote about when it was first published in German. Indeed, I have repeatedly said that this is a bigger risk than fake news.

      Which is a key point: that’s not fake news. As described it’s true news, things like reminders that Hillary called black youth superpredator.

      It may be they’re also spreading fake news (I suspect they spread one saying Hillary would take your guns). But as written that’s not fake news.

    • jdmckay says:

      Desider @ 3:23amIMO too dismissive calling this “overhyped”.

      Societies which have committed to this type of psychological manipulation by their government (Soviet Union, Hitler to name  couple) have imploded.  Became driven by fear.  And this stuff now has benefit of sophisticated computer processing/targeting those guys would have salivated for.

      This is simply sacrificing people… pavlovian training, for benefit only of $$ and control.  Takes “dirty” politics to another level, I’d say maybe evil.



  9. orionATL says:

    a very enlightening article. i understand the technique’s power now. it is, a great gift to those power-oriented individuals inclined toward psychological manipulation of millions – meticulous data collection, extraordinarily precise predictions individual-by-individual over millions of individuals, scientifically based, propaganda :)

    from the article:

    “These “dark posts”—sponsored Facebook posts that can only be seen by users with specific profiles—included videos aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators, for example…”

    i was pretty sure this quote, used initially against clinton by the black lives matter group would have been used by the trump campaign in its voter suppression effforts of the last month of the campaign.

    the misrepresentation it affords is breathtaking: a politician (clinton) with a real feeling for black americans and black culture who had, twenty years earlier, angrily referred to black drug peddlers who sold drugs to school children as “super-predators”, was twenty years and a lot of forgetting history later presented to black voters as insensitive and contemptuous.

    well, the box is open now. social groups like unions or political parties can be striped of at leastbsome of their power. we’ll see what happens to liberal democracy from here on out.

  10. martin says:

    Since the reply function operates correctly only sporadically, I’m replying to bmaz where every it ends up.
    To my statement: “Outta here in spring”.
    bmaz says:

    “Then where will you head?”
    Back to where I came from. Southern Oregon coast. Only moved here because of WS financial terrorists destroyed my livelyhood circa 2008. and ability to pay my mortgage. Hung in there till 2013. Now conditions are same.. house is still empty after 4 yrs. Should have stayed. Tried to use Obama’s Homeowner relief refinance program..FOUR TIMES. TOTAL FUCKING JOKE. So is PennyMac. They just asked if we wanted to try it again. I don’t think they liked what I told them. Someone needs to go to jail over this fraud. Ha. We know what happened with WS terrorists though. Nothing. At least till my wife dies. nuf on that though.
    “I live where the opposite is true: It is gorgeous this time of year, but often like hades in the summer.”
    I never imagined Arizona desert as beautiful. To each his own though. Right now, I live in the middle of the Manistee forest Ugliest forest I’ve ever witnessed. At least in winter. Not bad in summer, but compared to the Southern Oregon coast’s a no brainer. Ok, nuff said.

    Avattoir says:
    February 4, 2017 at 3:17 am
    quote”You appear to read about the same as you write. I made no assertion on whether you, I, or anyone in particular ‘ought to’ find the climate of north Michigan or north NY state OTOH, or southwest Ontario on the other, “tolerable”. I asserted no more than that the first 2 cases compare to the one. As to any your detection of aroma, if so, it must be ambient to where you are.”

    I’m sorry, but you seem to have mistaken me for someone who gives a fuck what you think of me. As for the rest of your comeback, perhaps I was a little hasty. Now that I’ve reread it, I should have used my time reading something more interesting…like the local obituaries.

    • SomeCallMeTim says:

      Southern Oregon Coast explains a lot of your climate comments. If you don’t have much use for major metro areas, and are a connoisseur of temperate rain forests,it’s a great place to be, and this Willamette Valley boy agrees with you (not that you care! ;) )

  11. orionATL says:

    reb desider comment –

    the trump deployment of cambridge analytics to facebook the last three weeks of the campaign puts in a new perspective the conservative “brooks brothers riot” (fake riot) against facebook and zuckerberg earlier in the fall claiming conservative “news” was being censored. the ever resolute zuckerberg immediately fired his human censors and allowed a flood of conservative messaging onto facebook – just in time for c. a.’s final act of the campaign.

    good work, zuckerberg!

    facebook has refused to release the information c. a. sent to some facebook patrons on behalf of the trump campaign. i guess it will take a lawsuit to force facebook to let the public know exactly what went on in the trump voter suppression actions.

  12. John Smith says:

    Are you  the Marcy Wheeler who appeared on C-SPAN during the 2008 presidential campaign and when asked who “was” your favorite president replied “the first black president, the first woman president”?

    If so, now that there has actually been a black president, do you still hold true to your 2008 idiocy and are you sorry that Hillary Clinton was not elected president in 2016?


  13. mzchief says:

    Great article, Marcy!

    Looks like there’s more regarding experiments in fine tuning psy-ops techniques conducted at universities with our tax dollars.

    “Fake news’ power to influence shrinks with a contextual warning, study finds” linked at

    We need to clean up research land as folks with jobs on the tax payer largess lack ethics and intellectual honesty. Even so, no one is relieved of the personal responsibility of turning on their brain and turn off the tech rather than submit to training oneself in distraction and unmindfulness. O.M.G.

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