Media Coverage & the US Election: How do you get your news?
Although the concept and indicators of fake news are becoming more common knowledge, influential people and communities continue to invest in fake news practices to push their personal agenda. While we often blame social media for the recent proliferation of fake news, mainstream media outlets are not exempt from contributing to the distribution of disinformation.
This past week has been chaos for media outlets around the world and their audiences as the US presidential election demands constant coverage of voting updates and newsworthy moments of both the Republicans and Democrats and their respective leaders. Whether it’s different counts of electoral votes or Donald Trump claiming a premature victory, media outlets will be covering this election for a while into the future.
While mainstream media outlets like Fox News and CNN held live streams during the thick of vote counting, they displayed different electoral vote numbers confusing the final vote totals. The reason for these differing numbers was due to media outlets making their own predictions of state voting and presenting it as a recorded tally.
Each mainstream news outlet has its own personalized decision desks to analyze voting data released by the Associated Press news agency. These decision desks analyze the ongoing voting activities in relation to the previous elections to note if the record is showing what has been seen in previous years, or if irregularities are arising in the current process.
Therefore, while Fox News called Biden’s win in Arizona earlier with 264 electoral votes before other news outlets (showing Biden at 253 electoral votes), these are merely predictions and estimates backed by data from previous years that show a trend in Republican and Democratic voting by state. However, without this knowledge, there is probable cause for confusion.
While mainstream news outlets have been a common source for news on the US election, social media has also been a major resource for the election audience, allowing election discussions to continue online.
The major social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, have been scrutinized in the past for not placing proper platform regulations and policies on political content. However, this time around, both Facebook and Twitter have placed disclaimers on all US election-based content, stating that the final polls are not yet official. However, this does not stop people from posting fake news or propaganda.
Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s Twitter pages have been especially active during this period: Biden tweeting about his predicted win and launching into a platform for tackling COVID-19, and Trump claiming a false victory and the rigging of mail-in ballots.
Notorious for his slanderous Twitter activity, the platform has taken extra steps at limiting Trump’s spread of fake news by removing the like and comment options for Twitter users on some of his flagged tweets.
However, some social media networks are under fire for not doing enough to tackle false election news.
YouTube is being criticized for failing to remove a video that wrongly claimed Trump had won the 2020 presidential election, despite a warning that the video contains demonstrably false information. Even though the Google-owned video platform has removed ads produced by the far-right TV channel One America News Network, Google is being accused of profiting off falsehoods.
With this in mind, it is important to be critical of the media outlets we favour as resources for our news, and skeptical of what is being said, how it is said, and the influence it’s trying to have on its audience.
While social media is on the rise of being a popular media outlet, it holds prime opportunity for fake news to spread intentionally and unintentionally. Social media networks can only do so much to prevent the spread of fake news without breaching democratic principles and invoking an abundance of censorship policies.