The fake news phenomenon hit a nadir in early December, when an armed man made his way to a popular Washington pizzeria. According to police, Edgar Welch was intent on investigating a fictitious conspiracy theory that the pizzeria was at the center of a child abuse ring linked to Clinton.
Welch allegedly fired two shots before being arrested. No one was injured, but the incident was serious enough to intensify worries about the fake news phenomenon.
The label has been applied both to conspiracy theories, such as the Clinton “pizzagate” fantasy, and to “news” that is produced by people, often based overseas, who know it is fictitious but seek to profit from it. Late in the year, Google and Facebook sought to crack down on purveyors of fake news from using their technology to sell ads.
Still, with Americans deeply distrustful of traditional media and increasingly reliant on social networks that often reinforce their existing views, it seems unlikely that “fake news” will disappear anytime soon.
In an end-of-year staff memo obtained by Business Insider, Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith predicted that, in 2017, “fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous and spun-up stories will spread widely.”