Hopefully we'll look back at 2016 as that weird year when fake news stories oddly garnered influence over the voting population of the country. On the other side of the spectrum, there's also a chance we may look back one day in an effort to decode the origins of a propaganda tactic that's continued to be manipulated by powerful and/or misinformed ne'er do wells. Either way, there's no doubt we can learn from the false stories that started it all.
In February, Donald Trump entertained conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered when reports surfaced that he was found with "a pillow on his face." Alex Jones' InfoWars had earlier reported on suggestions Scalia was killed. But the owner of the ranch where Scalia died later clarified that he did not have a pillow over his face.
In June, Trump tweeted a photo that purported to show a family of African-Americans who supported him. But they told BuzzFeed they definitely did not.
From fake NBC site
A fake NBC site alleged in August that Donald Trump was dead, inspiring the hashtag #RIPTrump. If the site's own traffic counter is to be believed, the story got more than three million views.
One fake news story that came out ahead of the election was published by "Winning Democrats," according to SF Gate. The false report claimed that Ireland was accepting refugees from the U.S. who were fleeing the possibility of a Trump presidency. The story reportedly got 810,000 engagements on Facebook before it was taken down.
About a week before the Nov. 8 election claims that Pope Francis endorsed Trump circulated online. It was and remains unequivocally false. The fake story reportedly originated on the satirical website WTOE 5 News, with the headline "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement."
Fake news writer Paul Horner 'fessed up to fabricating stories on his “satire” site abcnews.com.co (which even uses a logo designed to mimic the real ABC News logo) for a year. But he told The Washington Post a few weeks after the election, that he didn't realize how much damage fake news disguised as real news can do. "Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore -- I mean, that’s how Trump got elected," he said.
False stories circulated before the election that Hillary Clinton would definitely be indicted for her use of a private email server. A fake news site called WorldPoliticus claimed to have the big scoop. The Washington Post tracked down the fake story, which cited an unnamed FBI source. The story has since been taken down.
In late November, Trump made an unsupported claim in a Twitter message: "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Trump may have been referencing multiple fake stories on conspiracy websites that claim he defeated Clinton in the popular vote count, CNN hypothesized.
It earned the dubious nickname "PizzaGate": In early December a man with a rifle who claimed to be "self-investigating" a baseless online conspiracy theory entered a Washington, D.C., pizzeria and fired the weapon inside the restaurant.
Sandy Hook conspiracy theories have been brewing for a while, but they fueled an actual crime in early December when a Florida woman was charged with issuing death threats to a parent of one of the 20 children killed in the 2012 mass shooting. The woman issuing the threats was reportedly inspired by the hoax theory that the elementary school massacre that also left six staffers dead didn't actually happen.
The hashtag #DumpStarWars started trending on Dec. 8, bolstered by the allegation that the film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" included an anti-Trump message. Disney told TheWrap the claim was unequivocally false.