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Buzzfeed’s Fake News Problem

By Doug Groves on 18 Nov 2016

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If you went looking for a piece of hay in a pile of needles, would you blame the hay if you pricked your finger?

That’s what the mainstream media is doing right now by blaming Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Google), regarding “fake news” and the need to crack down on this spam. Besides CNN head Jeff Zucker apologizing for running unedited Trump speeches, which is pretty ironic for a news outlet that needs to have a 24/7 newsfeed, a lot of print and online outfits are walking in lockstep about the Facebook/Macedonian “problem” of fake news.

Let’s just take a look at one example.

On Wednesday Nov 16, Buzzfeed News ran an article called “Viral Fake Election News Outperformed Real News On Facebook In Final Months Of The US Election”, written by their founding editor Craig Silverman.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook

The article details how “hyperpartisan sites” managed to outperform more traditional “mainstream news”, including itself. They then determined that the top fake story was “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement”. This was clearly fake news, from a bogus website.

According to the Buzzfeed analysis, in the three months leading up to the election, the “Pope” article published by “Ending The Fed” managed to get 960,000 Facebook engagements, which is a total number derived from shares, reactions, and comments for a piece of shared on Facebook.

Buzzfeed’s “data set”

Fake/False – Top 20
August 1 to election day – 8,711,000
May to July – 3,183,000
February to April – 2,970,000

Big News Sites – Top 20
August 1 to election day – 7,367,000
May to July – 9,492,000
February to April – 12,395,000

The top 20 real news sites:
New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, New York Post, The Guardian, USA Today, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FOX News, NPR, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Vox, Business Insider, Politico

Buzzfeed’s “full” data set is here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ysnzawW6pDGBEqbXqeYuzWa7Rx2mQUip6CXUUUk4jIk/

While the fake sites do eke past the real in the final 3 months, from February to election day, the mainstream press still won the year up until election day by 2 to 1. I guess Buzzfeed doesn’t expect their viewership to bother adding numbers.

Fake Total: 14,864,000

Big Total: 29,254,000

Sure, it does seem that “fake news” is catching up though. Those damned Macedonians.

This data is just the proverbial piece of hay in the needle stack though.

By their own admission, Buzzfeed ignored “native video” and other Facebook centric content, instead focusing on links to external websites. By ignoring said services that use Facebook as a video distribution service akin to YouTube, it gives far too much weight to those pesky Macedonians, and grossly under-represents the influence of native video services.

By orders of magnitude.

Take a look at just one such “native video” outfit.

It’s called NowThis Media, which does a broad spectrum of video posted directly to Facebook, as opposed to distributing on YouTube and linking. They have a bit of a Twitter following but Facebook is their bread and butter. They cover everything from politics to cooking videos.

To keep things neat, they have a separate sub brand called “NowThis Election”.

I personally became aware of NowThis at some point in the summer, when one of their videos started to go viral.

Titled “Donald Trump delivers horrible foreign policy speech following…”, with the comment on it saying “This was Donald J. Trump’s most xenophobic and anti-Muslim speech yet” it was too good to pass up.

https://www.facebook.com/NowThisElection/videos/1200842399947248/

The problem is that the video is fake news. If you watch it, it’s heavily edited, and paints said speed in a much more negative light, regardless of your personal political affiliation.

Here are the edits:

NowThis: Here is what she said: ‘Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.’ That is Hillary Clinton. I don’t want them in our country.

Actual: And by the way, the LBGT community is just, what happened to them is just so sad, and to be thinking where their policies are currently with this administration is a disgrace to that community, I’ll tell you that right now. Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists into this country. They enslave women and they murder gays. I don’t want them in our country. Immigration is a privilege and we should not let into our country those who don’t support our communities.

NowThis: The only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here. [Caption: Donald Trump just beat his own xenophobia high score]

Actual: The killer, whose name I will not use or ever say, was born in Afghan of Afghan parents, who immigrated to the United States. His father published support for the afghan Taliban, a regime which murders those who don’t share its radical views, and they’ve murdered plenty. The father even said he was running for president of Afghanistan. The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed him to be here.

NowThis: We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.

Actual: We have a dysfunctional immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country and it does not allow us to protect our citizens properly… When I’m elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats. And, by the way, we have no choice. After a full and partial and long- really long — overdue security assessment we will develop a responsible immigration policy that serves the interests and values of America. We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer. Many of the principles of radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions. Remember this: radical Islam is anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-American.

Edits are copied from the following link, which offered up an analysis:

http://dailycaller.com/2016/06/21/watch-how-nowthis-doctors-video-of-trump-to-distort-his-message/

Note, The Daily Caller itself is a “partisan” website.

By June 21st, less than a week after it was published to Facebook, that video had racked up over 1.9 million views, and a number of reactions, shares and comments.

It trumped the “Pope Francis” story by double, and up until today, November 18th, sits at 4.7 million views. This is roughly how that one video compares to the “top five” fake stories, according to a self-described “real” new site.

horriblevideo

Here’s some more numbers by “NowThis Election”, starting with the release of the “horrible” video in June. If I went further back, it would just take too long.

Since the publication of that one video, they’ve released approximately 350 videos.

Videos released between June 13 and September 8th: 504 million views. Not “total engagements”, just adding up the views.

The total views up until and not counting their “Donald Trump Wins” election video: 1,171,622,000. That’s 1.17 billion.

Post election videos have also garnered 100s of millions of views, but I stopped counting, because the point is made.

One single video that is clearly “hyperpartisan” by the standards of Buzzfeed News beats out the top five “fake news” articles, presumably from those rapscallions in Macedonia, yet they made the editorial decision to not bother counting “native video” outfits.

Why not mention a media entity that clearly wields influence on a scale that dwarfs all the fake news sites, Macedonian or not, while propagating a hyperpartisan slant? Isn’t this what the discussion is about?

Here’s the kicker.

NowThis Media was founded by Kenneth Lerer and Eric Hippeau. They have some media cred, as Leher was a co-founder of Huffington Post, while Hippeau used to be HuffPo’s CEO. Lerer also taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, amongst others.

Both men sit on the board of Buzzfeed, with Lerer as chairman.

Facebook has a problem with fake news, indeed.

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