"Trump was like a super virus, immune to antibiotics, and every media attack only made him stronger."
Lance Gould, editor for special projects at the Huffington Post US, discussed lessons from the US election and the result of the EU referendum in the UK on a panel at the "Politicians in a communication storm" event organised by the European Parliament on 15-16 November.
The event brought together politicians, communications professionals and media to discuss the importance of social networks in engaging young people with politics and the role of platforms in combating misinformation.
Gould, like many journalists have since 8 November, reflected on why news outlets did not see a Trump victory coming.
The Huffington Post's forecasting model gave Clinton a 98 per cent chance of becoming the 45th president of the United States. The New York Times' election model also favoured Clinton on election day, at 85 per cent.
"The USA is now split into two very distinct societies living apart in shielded bubbles, protected by reinforced steel through which no dissenting opinion can penetrate."
They watch different TV channels and see vastly different feeds on social networks, he said, as Facebook uses algorithms to determine which posts users engage with and offers up more of the same, creating an echo chamber. On top of the filter bubble, partisan Facebook pages also served up a diet heavy in fake news.
In an effort to find out how different the bubbles can really become, the Guardian convinced ten US voters with opposing political views to swap feeds and experience Facebook from a different perspective ahead of the US election – people both on the left and the right described others' feeds as "hateful".
The Blue Feed, Red Feed project from the Wall Street Journal also enables people to compare Liberal and Conservative Facebook and experience the two versions of the feed side by side.
Forecasting & responding to disinformation are one of the most important challenges today #PICsocial— Evelien Bogaert (@EvelienBogaert) November 16, 2016
"Just because it isn't true, it doesn't mean that it won't go viral," said Gould, addressing fake news stories and the way they have spread on social media during the US election.
According to analysis published by BuzzFeed on 16 November, viral fake stories received more engagement on Facebook than real news from established outlets in the months before the vote.
"Any efforts to correct the record by actual media outlets were seen as incursions into enemy territory. Trust in traditional media is at historic lows in the US and Donald Trump was the cheerleader-in-chief in efforts to cast the media as an enemy of his campaign."
But the filter bubbles many people experience on social platforms had also trapped the media ahead of the election.
"Yes, the media has egg on its face and we were wrong. I think the culture wars played a stronger factor than we realised, and the media had less access to some of the culture war perspectives because of those damned bubbles.
"That was our great failure in this election, to see things outside of our own bubbles. The poll results were close all along and too many of us didn't believe he could win."
Matt Rogerson, director for public policy at the Guardian, outlined some of the context around the EU referendum campaign, such as the tendency to believe the number of EU immigrants in the UK was significantly higher than the real data shows.
Following the results of the US election, Facebook has been blamed for enabling fake news to spread, but Rogerson does not believe simply addressing verification and fact-checking will be enough to alter the effect of the bubbles created by the algorithm.
In fact, he thinks the bubbles will only become stronger, as people move conversations from the "semi-public world of Facebook" to more private chat apps.
"My theory is that those groups become areas where the sources of news and the sources of information are even more limited and this kind of effect we are seeing... might be amplified. So I think it's a very difficult issue."
Speaking on a panel later in the day, Rowan Kerek Robertson, former head of social media at the BBC, explained that one way for media organisations and campaign managers to reach people whose news feeds are wildly different is through targeted posts and advertising.
Asked whether the media is doomed to fail at this task, Gould said the industry should acknowledge the signs and shift its approach.
"Whenever you do have failure you try to learn from your mistakes and correct them. Interestingly, I think that the Brexit result was a big warning sign to the Clinton campaign to get the millennial vote out and that's one factor in her loss that I think was not heeded.
"I think the media is centralised in the blue states [Democrat] on the coasts, which is not to say that they are necessarily liberal and favouring one side or the other, but I don't think we did enough of a good job covering things outside of our bubble.
"And with budget cuts, it's hard to do that. We can't start to cover the red states [Republican] as if they are foreign territory, I think we need to have people who live there and who can give us proper perspective. So there are steps to be taken yes, but I don't think we're doomed to failure."
Free daily newsletter
- How to fight mis- and disinformation during the coronavirus crisis
- International Fact-Checking Day: eight resources for verifying information
- Does a digital detox make sense during the covid-19 crisis?
- Protocol - the 'Politico for tech' - wants to bring unbiaised news to decision-makers
- How to use social-native storytelling to break and cover news on Instagram