There is no doubt that 2016 was the year of fake news and crazy conspiracy theories.
In fact, the problem was so widespread that Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” — an adjective that means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” — the 2016 word of the year.
And not only were these theories — including the one about Hillary Clinton being dead and her look-alike taking over and Taylor Swift being a satanic priestess — shared online, a lot of people actually believed them.
For instance, for the longest time people have speculated former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac Killer, California’s notorious serial killer who was never identified.
As per a February poll, nearly 40 percent of Floridians believed that Cruz was in fact the Zodiac Killer.
The rumor blew up to the extent that the senator’s wife, Heidi Cruz, had to refute it during an interview.
“Well, I’ve been married to him for 15 years, and I know pretty well who he is, so it doesn’t bother me at all. There’s a lot of garbage out there,” she told Yahoo, blaming the popularity of the online meme on the media.
The most dangerous, however, turned out to be “pizzagate”: the name given to a series of hoax news items pedaled online by the alt-right (aka white supremacist) websites before the election.
The “pizzagate” theories maintain the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington, D.C., and its owner were involved in a child sex operation — led by Hillary Clinton.
The fake news convinced 28-year-old man, identified as Edgar Maddison Welch, to such an extent that he turned up to the pizzeria with an assault rifle to “investigate” the matter himself.
Fortunately, no one got hurt but the incident sparked grave concern over such conspiracy theories floating across the World Wide Web and also prompted tech giants like Google and Facebook to work on a “policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content.”
Around 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news from social media, with Facebook being the top source, according to Pew Research.