Chart: The Fake News Problem
Peer opinion fills a void left by falling trust in mass media
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
There’s been no shortage of blame passed around for the so-called “fake news” epidemic that has been front and center since the U.S. election.
Social media has been singled out as one key factor leading to the spread of misleading or false news. However, low barriers to entry for creating content, hyperpartisanism, confirmation bias, and the echo-chamber effect have also been identified as causes or symptoms in the proliferation of such stories.
It’s certainly a complex problem to unravel, and many proposed solutions are just as alarming as the symptoms they try to treat. The decentralization and fragmentation of information is the core of what makes the internet great, and this democratization helps to decouple power away from the established institutions that may or may not have our interests at heart.
How do we regulate news for its authority and legitimacy without stifling alternate viewpoints, differing narratives, and independent sources of information?
In today’s landscape, people are turning away from traditional media and gravitating towards digital content. In this new digital media paradigm, who is considered a trustworthy and convenient source of information?
As long as they could remain reputable, the mainstream outlets that garnered eyeballs throughout broadcasting history should have been the obvious benefactors of this transition. Groups like CNN and Fox News, or The New York Times and The Washington Post, could have remained unquestioned authorities on the issues.
However, it seems like this opportunity has been recently squandered to some extent. These outlets have been slow to adopt their business strategies to the digital landscape, and they remain in damage control mode as advertising revenues drop and profitability wanes. Publishers have been under immense pressure to generate views, and have taken shortcuts in content creation to do this. Hyperpartisan viewpoints that confirm existing biases (aka, the Huffington Post or Breitbart models) and sensational clickbait headlines have been one easy way to build traffic. Some publishers also have an itchy trigger finger, and it seems that getting a story out first has become more important than verifying its validity.
These above factors have, ironically, led to mass media as being a direct part of the “fake news” problem. The retracted stories on Russian propaganda by the Washington Post have been a lightning rod for scrutiny, and entire posts are dedicated to keeping misleading stories from established media at bay. Having a track record with zero blemishes is obviously a difficult target to hit, but the reality is that we are seeing misleading news from everywhere now: “fake news” outlets, mainstream outlets, and the White House itself.
Falling Trust in Media and Institutions
Even before “fake news” hit the mainstream, a poll by Gallup showed that Americans’ trust in mass media was hitting an all-time low. In September 2016, only 32% of people said they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media, which is a decline of -8% from the previous year.
A report from Edelman from January 2017 is even more damning. Trust of the media declined -5% from 2016, which is faster than trust is declining in government (-1%), business (-1%), and NGOs (-2%).
As we mentioned earlier, the rise of fake news is complex and very difficult to untangle. However, the fact is that established news outlets aren’t doing themselves any favors. If people feel like they can’t trust the Washington Post or other such sources, then it should be no surprise that they are turning to the power of “word of mouth” from their peers more often – no matter how fallible this might be.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
We provide a data-driven overview of how the recent BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
BRICS is an association of five major countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Distinguished by their emerging economies, the group has sought to improve diplomatic coordination, reform global financial institutions, and ultimately serve as a counterbalance to Western hegemony.
On Aug. 24, 2023, BRICS announced that it would formally accept six new members at the start of 2024: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In this graphic, we provide a data-driven overview of how the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Share of Global GDP
Because most of the new BRICS members are considered to be developing economies, their addition to the group will not have a major impact on its overall share of GDP.
The following table includes GDP projections for 2023, courtesy of the IMF.
|Country||GDP (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||$399||0.4%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$1,062||1.0%|
|-||Rest of World||$74,362||70.7%|
The original six BRICS members are expected to have a combined GDP of $27.6 trillion in 2023, representing 26.3% of the global total. With the new members included, expected GDP climbs slightly to $30.8 trillion, enough for a 29.3% global share.
Share of Global Population
BRICS has always represented a major chunk of global population thanks to China and India, which are the only countries with over 1 billion people.
The two biggest populations being added to BRICS are Ethiopia (126.5 million) and Egypt (112.7 million). See the following table for population data from World Population Review, which is dated as of 2023.
|Country||Population||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||60,414,495||0.8%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||36,947,025||0.5%|
|-||BRICS Total||3.7 billion||46.0%|
|-||Rest of World||4.3 billion||54.0%|
It’s possible that BRICS could eventually surpass 50% of global population, as many more countries have expressed their desire to join.
Share of Oil Production
Although the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, the global oil market is still incredibly large—and BRICS is set to play a much bigger role in it. This is mostly due to the admission of Saudi Arabia, which alone accounts for 12.9% of global oil production.
Based on 2022 figures from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, BRICS’ share of oil production will grow from 20.4% to 43.1%.
|Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||0||0.0%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||12,136||12.9%|
|-||Rest of World||53,394||56.9%|
It’s worth noting that China has been pushing for oil trade to be denominated in yuan, and that Saudi Arabia’s acceptance into BRICS could bolster this ambition, potentially shifting the dynamics of global oil trade.
Share of Global Exports
The last metric included in our graphic is global exports, which is based on 2022 data from the World Trade Organization. We can see that the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s share of global exports (merchandise trade) to 25.1%, up from 20.2%.
|Country||Exports (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||123||0.5%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||410||1.6%|
|-||Rest of World||18,646||74.9%|
Unsurprisingly, China is the world’s largest exporter. Major exporters that are not a part of BRICS include the U.S. (8.3%), Germany (6.6%), the Netherlands (3.9%), and Japan (3.0%).
Who Else Wants to Join?
According to Reuters, there are over 40 countries that have expressed interest in joining BRICS. A smaller group of 16 countries have actually applied for membership, though, and this list includes Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Palestine, and Vietnam.
As the group grows in size, differing opinions and priorities among its members could create tensions in the future. For example, India and China have had numerous border disputes in recent years, while Brazil’s newly elected President has sought to “kickstart a new era of relations” with the U.S.
One thing that is certain, however, is that a new acronym for the group will be needed very soon.
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