Despite a media blitz portraying fake news sites as having a real impact in national politics — and even capable of affecting the outcome of a presidential election — fake news sites struggle to reach any sort of real audience.
Fake news site DenverGuardian.com, subject of coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, is ranked 91,688 in web traffic in the U.S., according to web analytics firm Alexa.
To put that number in perspective: the site supposedly impacting the national political scene is more than 84,000 slots behind the website for a Virginia community college.
On Sunday, the New York Times devoted front-page coverage to a site called the “Patriot News Agency.” The Times’ story emphasized the fact that “operators of Patriot News had an explicitly partisan motivation: getting Mr. Trump elected.”
But “Patriot News Agency” is even less popular than the “Denver Guardian,” ranking in at 184,898 in the country, according to Alexa. The site’s Facebook page has 113 total likes at this time.
Fake news site “MSNBC.com.co,” whose name meant to fool readers into confusing it with liberal network MSNBC, received mentions from the Washington Post and liberal website Vox.com, among others. But “MSNBC.com.co” reaches a tiny audience, according to Alexa’s data, which has the site ranked 549,714 in the United States.
The minuscule reach of fake news sites hasn’t kept the Times from running headlines like “As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug At The Truth” or “Media’s Next Challenge: Overcoming The Threat Of Fake News.”
Other liberal news outlets have pushed a similar narrative in which fake news somehow had an impact on the 2016 presidential election.
Vanity Fair, for example, ran a story titled, “Did Russian Agents Influence The Election With Fake News?”
The Washington Post ran a piece with the title: “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.” The Post has since walked back parts of the article after one of the websites named threatened to file a lawsuit.
Some liberal media organizations have tried to define their conservative competitors as “fake news,” leading some conservatives to worry that liberals will use the war on “fake news” as an excuse to silence non-liberal perspectives.
In response to public pressure to do something about “fake news,” Facebook has appointed four “fact-check” organizations to label stories deemed “fake” as illegitimate.
One of Facebook’s newly-appointed fact-checkers, the mythbusting website Snopes, almost exclusively employs leftists and has a history of itself getting the facts wrong while trying to “fact-check” conservative news stories.
The Daily Caller