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Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

142 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2017 Last revised: 28 Aug 2017

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Hal Roberts

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Bruce Etling

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Nikki Bourassa

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Ethan Zuckerman

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Yochai Benkler

Harvard University

Date Written: August 2017

Abstract

In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

We find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.

Our data supports lines of research on polarization in American politics that focus on the asymmetric patterns between the left and the right, rather than studies that see polarization as a general historical phenomenon, driven by technology or other mechanisms that apply across the partisan divide.

The analysis includes the evaluation and mapping of the media landscape from several perspectives and is based on large-scale data collection of media stories published on the web and shared on Twitter.

Suggested Citation

Faris, Robert and Roberts, Hal and Etling, Bruce and Bourassa, Nikki and Zuckerman, Ethan and Benkler, Yochai, Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election (August 2017). Berkman Klein Center Research Publication 2017-6. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3019414

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Hal Roberts

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/hroberts

Bruce Etling

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Nikki Bourassa

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Ethan Zuckerman

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Yochai Benkler (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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