The former US president Donald Trump is well known for his disproportionate use of the expression “fake news” during his four-years mandate. Especially on Twitter, Mr Trump will be recorded as the main politician weaponizing this catch-all expression to undermine media organisations and journalists.
Within the WeVerify EU project, we are building social networks analysis tools for journalists, fact-checkers and researchers. Our Twitter SNA tool allows us to analyse hyper-partisan discourse and disinformation campaigns on keyword, hashtag or url queries.
840 “fake news” tweets in four years
During his four-years in power, Mr Trump used the expression “fake news” 840 times since December 10, 2016, when he was still president-elect. And he attracted a considerable amount of unedited retweets and likes.
The automated propagation timeline shows the compulsive usage of the expression “fake news”. Those tweets managed to engage the audience at the end of Mr. Trump’s mandate. It reflects the polarisation in American politics.
In total, Mr. Trump employed both words fake and news in 876 tweets, an oxymoron that he claimed to be at the origin. In 230 tweets of them, he also used another flavour: “fake news media”. As media studies scholar Mark Andrejevic (*) puts it: “the goal is no longer to sustain a dominant narrative, but to prevent any sustainable counter-narrative to emerge (…) to sow doubt that renders all narratives suspect”.
Our automated and clickable word cloud allows to analyse each term employed by Mr. Trump in his “fake news” tweets and to retrieve the corresponding tweets. CNN, NBC and New York Times appear frequently, as well for different reasons, Fox News.
Will the expression “fake news” remain as a legacy of Mr. Trump presidency and keep spreading like a pandemic ? The future will tell us. In the meantime, as writes Social science researcher Johan Farkas: “the term fake news has become a rhetorical weapon, increasingly mobilized by political actors to attack their opponents” (*).
(*) Both Mark Andrejevic and Johan Farkas quotes come from the book Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age (2020), by Melissa Zimdars and Kembrew McLeod eds. MIT Press.