There were several problems for those advancing the Fake News angle. One issue was that no one could agree what constituted fake news. A second was that not many people seemed to have been aware of some of the actual fake news coming out of Romania or wherever it was. A third problem was the quality of reporting on the part of the Mainstream Media. They were so obviously partisan that their veracity was called into question. Even separate from the bias and partisanship was the issue that they so often got their facts wrong, conducted erroneous empirical analysis, presented information confusingly or omitted contextual information. Truly fake news (from Romania) was combined with native biased news along with erroneous news, inaccurate news, incomplete news and confusing news. The focus on pushing the Fake News line has softened in the face of these realities.
Now there is further evidence that calls in to question the reality and materiality of Fake News as an influencer of the outcomes. From Researchers Created Fake News. Here’s What They Found. by Neil Irwin.
Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford commissioned a survey in late November hoping to discern just how deeply some of the fake news embedded itself with American voters. The two asked people, among other things, whether they had heard various pieces of news that reflected positively or negatively on one of the candidates — of three varieties.The study, in my opinion, bolsters the case that Fake News was an immaterial issue, but does not completely put the issue to bed. Indeed, I suspect that it cannot be resolved because, to some degree, how you see Truth depends on where you are standing.
There was completely true news: Hillary Clinton called some Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables,” for example, or Mr. Trump refused to say at a debate whether he would concede the election if he lost.
There was fake news, as identified by fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact — big things like the Pope Francis story and smaller items, like Mr. Trump threatening to deport the “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to Puerto Rico.
The third category was most interesting. The researchers created “fake fake” news. That is, they invented some headlines that were the type of thing fake sites produce, but had never actually been published during the campaign. One of these placebo headlines was that “leaked documents reveal that the Clinton campaign planned a scheme to offer to drive Republican voters to the polls but then take them to the wrong place,” and its inverse in which it was the Trump campaign scheming to take Democrats to the wrong polling place.
There is some good news in that more people reported having heard, and believed, the true statements than the false statements. Only 15.3 percent of the population recalled seeing the fake news stories, and 7.9 percent recalled seeing them and believing them.
The more interesting result: Those numbers are nearly identical to the proportion who reported seeing (14.1 percent) and believing (8.3 percent) the placebos, the “fake fake” news stories. In other words, as many people recalled seeing and believing fake news that had been published and distributed through social media as recalled seeing fake news that had never existed and was purely an invention of researchers.
That’s a strong indication about what is going on with consumers of fake news. It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.
It is true that, on average, everyone benefits from increasing global trade. It is a huge engine for the betterment of everyone's lives, on average. It is also true that while the average improve, specific individuals may suffer. It is also true that you can be 100% enthusiastic about the value of global trade but also be 100% for managing the pace of globalization to a speed that is more tolerable. All these statements are true but depending on your goals and priorities, any one of them might have primacy and the others be deemed "Fake News."
As a matter of record, below are the explanations I saw in various articles, in the space of a week, immediately after the election. Specifically, each of these were identified by pundits and opinion pieces as the reason for the unexpected outcome of the election. I started keeping track 2-3 days after the election when it began to appear that there might be a prolonged coping period. The items are presented in close approximation to the sequence in which I encountered them. Some were much more frequently cited than others but I did not keep track of that. It is interesting to look at the list two months later.
It is also worth noting that the overwhelming number of items on this list were from Democratic operatives, pundits, insiders and sympathizers. These are the root causes as identified by Democrats.
Causes of the unexpected election of Donald Trump
Coastal elite bubbles
Russian hacking and influencing
The DNC shenanigans
Gary Johnson and Jill Stein
Pervasiveness of political correctness (in the sense that PC prevented people talking about what was really going on.)
American disgust with political correctness
James Comey of the FBI
Low minority turnout
Blue collar uneducated men
Arrogance on the part of the elite
Late breaking independents
The Media and their misreporting and biases
Abandonment of the white working class by the Democrats
Pundits and Talking Heads
Two party structure
Crooked Insider vs. Uncouth Outsider
Poor campaign management
Poor millennial turnout
Failure of transferability of Obama coalition
Prioritizing social diversity over economic fairness by Democrats and media
Health scares (about Clinton's health)
Avoidance of press conferences by Clinton
Avoidance of rallies by Clinton
Overemphasis on money raising by Clinton
Insensitivity to desire for change
Taking Rust Belt for granted
Ignoring Bill Clinton advice
Clinton Foundation corruption
Email server scandal
Failure of Union campaign drives
Inability to adapt to a non-standard campaign
Identity politics - stench (general dislike for)
Identity politics - miscalculations (criticism about not managing it well)
Astro-turf vs. grassroots
Anti-Trump violence by DNC
Bill Clinton sexual misconduct legacy
Weakened and exposed by Sanders campaign
Ad hominem campaign
Emotions driven campaign
Not distinguishing rhetoric from logic
Taking core voters for granted (African-American and Hispanic)
No acknowledgment of problem of economy
Big donor money versus small donors
Affiliation with BLM
Affiliation with attacks on police
Party of the professional class
Focus on diversity over economy
Virtue signaling versus honesty
Press's lack of focus on policy differences
Failure to identify Trump's real weakness (privilege rather than unfitness)
Tone deaf data-driven campaign
Insularity of advisers
Ground game numbers versus zeal
Mis-targeting of ground campaign (accidentally turning out Trump supporters)
Gimmicks over authenticity
Cult of inevitability
Anti-labor stance (coal)
Democratic Party obsession with race
Bigotry and demonization of opponents
Woman is not an "identity"
Ignoring feedback from the field organization
Media focusing on accusing Trump of racism distracted them from legitimate criticisms
Misweighting of demographics in polling
UPDATE: And I should probably add one perennial. It wasn't mentioned (that I saw) in the time frame above but has had a low level support from certain quarters in the weeks since: the notorious Low Information Voter.