Since Donald Trump’s victory, there’s been a lot of attention finally being given to a problem myself and many others in the “independent media” have known and talked about for quite some time: Unethical websites pushing fake news (or mixing real and fake news) and/or conspiracies, using social media to make these stories go viral and instantly misinforming millions of Americans.
While this is a problem for both the right and the left, if you’re objective about how real this problem is, it’s clear that this “fake/conspiracy” news issue is far more prevalent among conservatives than it is liberals. Though make no mistake about it, I’ve addressed more than my fair share of liberals pushing ridiculous conspiracy theories, too. There are definitely far more right-wing conspiracy theorists and people who believe outrageously fabricated drivel than there are on the left, but an irrational fanatic is an irrational fanatic, and they’re often going to believe what they want to believe no matter what reality tells them.
That being said, I thought I’d list 10 types of websites I fully believe had a helping hand in Donald Trump winning the presidency. Again, these types of sites are read and shared by both liberals and conservatives alike, and often get the majority of their traffic via social media and people blindly sharing things they want to believe.
1. Websites that use no credible source: What many of these websites do is source each other. One fanatical fake news blog will cite another, then another, then another — and so on. Often times, each of the sites they source is also owned by them. However, if you try to trace the “story” back to its original source, you almost always find absolutely nothing. If the sources these sites are using aren’t credible, then that’s probably not a place from which you want to get your information.
2. If A LOT OF THEIR headlines are TYPED like THIS: Look, using headlines that use all caps to emphasize something once in a while is fine — once in a great while. But if a good portion, if not the majority, of their headlines look like that, I would strongly suggest you really make sure to fact check every single article they publish before sharing it.
3. Most of their huge, scandalous stories aren’t talked about by any credible news organization: Say what you want about the mainstream media (and there’s plenty to say), but the information they put out is actually pretty damn accurate. Each major news channel (yes, even Fox News) is held to a standard where they must have some semblance of credibility behind the news (keyword: news) on which they report. Where a station like Fox News skews that line is they consider a lot of their shows “opinion” or “entertainment,” which allows for a much larger interpretation of what is or isn’t a “fact.” That doesn’t make it right, but even Fox News is much… much more factual overall than practically every right-wing blog I’ve found.
4. A good portion of their stories aren’t really newsworthy: There’s clickbait for the sake of luring in readers to quality content about newsworthy material (that’s just a reality of today’s marketing) — then there’s clickbait for the lone purpose of sensationalizing a news story for the sake of “shock” value to get cheap traffic. Random cell phone videos of some moron in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Nowhere, Wyoming saying something awful to another random person is not “newsworthy.” Most of these are very isolated incidents that websites will pick and choose to write about to push a narrative by exploiting “anger” and “outrage” for some cheap traffic. What you’re seeing in these stories and on these videos isn’t usually “fake,” but they can often be taken out of context to push a narrative that might not actually be true. (Note that this is just one example, and is completely separate from the very real and newsworthy hateful attacks that have been happening since the election.)
5. Too much satire mixed with legitimate news: These are actually one of the worst types of sites. When a website publishes a bunch of satire mixed with a good chunk of legitimate news (or sometimes mixing the two in the same article), you’re forcing people to have to decipher fact from fiction, making it so much easier for misinformation to be spread. This is how many conspiracies become “fact” to those who gravitate toward any information that confirms their bias.
6. The site almost always tells you what you want to hear: One of the worst things people do in this country is surround themselves in an echo chamber of confirmation bias where all they expose themselves to are sources that tell them what they want to hear. Meanwhile, they typically block or reject any sources that don’t.
If you’re following sites that almost never publish anything with which you disagree, especially if they never call out “your side” for anything, that’s actually not a good thing!
This is really at the heart of how Trump got elected. He did a great job at selling this idea that any source that criticized him or debunked something he said was “part of the rigged system,” pushing his supporters to seek out these fake news sites that were producing completely bogus “stories” that fed right into this propaganda.
If you don’t believe me, just take Paul Horner’s word on it. Horner has been pushing the type of garbage Trump’s supporters wanted to hear all year long, and he’s made a ton of money doing it. Here’s what he had to say to The Washington Post about the success of his viral articles:
I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].
Meanwhile, he’s still pumping out fake articles for easy money. Great way to show how “bad” you feel there, bud.
7. They’re a random blog producing 15-20 stories per day (or more), nearly every single day: If you’re in the legitimate news business, like the mainstream media is, then there’s a lot to cover. As a writer/blogger for over four years, there are days I’ve struggled to find more than a handful of “newsworthy” stories to cover and give my opinion on. If these sites want to be in the news business, that’s fine, but most aren’t. Most of us in the “independent media” are more in the opinion business. Very few of these sites are actually breaking stories, and if you’re constantly seeing them post “BREAKING NEWS” on Facebook with some ridiculous clickbait headline to go along with it, that’s a good sign that they’re sitting in their basement all day waiting for random news to break to get a quick article up and make easy money.
If a random blog run by a few people is publishing a sizable amount of content every single day, then they’re likely really reaching for something to publish which is how misinformation, lies and conspiracies often get spread. Non-newsworthy stories can get stretched to such ridiculous lengths for easy “clicks” that there’s almost nothing true about the final product. Hey, but it made for a great EYE POPPING headline and made the person behind the keyboard a good chunk of change, so there’s that.
8. They have almost no original content: If sites and writers want to give their take on news they’ve found from other credible sources, that’s fine. Hell, here at Forward Progressives, we do that practically every day. As long as the stories are legitimate and the site is being honest, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if a website produces next to nothing that’s original, or the “original content” is “news” like I discussed in #3, then you might want to be very cautious about that site.
9. Many of their articles are one short paragraph and some sort of embedded YouTube video: I can’t count how many anti-Hillary Clinton articles I saw my pro-Trump friends post that were 2-3 sentences long, with a ridiculous YouTube video heavily edited to push some outlandish conspiracy. These articles are some of the most dangerous because they’re extremely easy to put together, often go very viral and usually don’t contain a shred of factual information.
10. They spend a lot of time attacking other sites: It’s one thing to call out the mainstream media (or even other smaller media entities) for failing in the ethics or quality department from time to time. It’s quite another to often specifically go after other sources in an effort to discredit them, hoping to make yourself appear more “honest and trustworthy.” That’s the foundation for conspiracy theorists — they desperately want you to believe them and disregard anyone who says they’re wrong.
Now I know what some are saying: But isn’t that what you’re doing with this article?
No, I’m not. I’m not telling anyone to follow or unfollow any particular website or person. I wrote this because people often ask me what sources are trustworthy, and I typically respond by telling them they have to decide that for themselves.
I constantly encourage people to fact check everything we produce here. While we do our best to be factual and honest, I’m not going to say that we’ve never been wrong or made any mistakes. By all means, fact check the hell out of us — we welcome it.
The point of this article isn’t to slam any particular website. I wrote this to offer my own personal opinion about things I see with a lot of these fake “news” sites that helped Donald Trump get elected. It’s important for all of us to be aware of the sources we’re reading and sharing.
My motto is simple: Be skeptical of everything you read. Anyone whose top priority is honesty and truthfulness will never mind you looking into something they’ve written. In short, stop sharing, spreading and rewarding bullshit.
Not every fake news site uses these tactics, nor is every site that uses some of what I’ve listed here unethical or “fake.” However, a lot of what I’ve covered here are red flags that should at least make people pause for a minute to look into what they’re reading. Is it honest, factual and credible? Is it based in some sort of reality with an analysis of known facts, or is it based in a Twilight Zone of links to other crap blogs that claim to have the “SHOCKING!” truth?