A while back, hackers linked to the Russian government stole a cache of emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and furnished them to WikiLeaks. One of those emails has generated a lot of interest in conservative circles because — conservatives say — it shows that polls are being systematically biased in Clinton's favor.
In the email, Thomas Matzzie, an operative for the 2008 Clinton primary campaign, asked advisers at a progressive group called the Atlas Project to "recommend oversamples for our polling." Bloggers like Zero Hedge and Gateway Pundit pounced on this as evidence that the Clinton campaign was working with mainstream media organizations to rig public polls in Clinton's favor.
That would be a big story if it were true. But as I'll explain below, it's not — people were misinterpreting a banal discussion about the campaign's internal polling.
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But even though the story is obviously, comically, wrong, it won't die. It's been circulating for days among conservative blogs and social media accounts since it became public. And its longevity points to a troubling development in our media environment.
Social media sites like Facebook have democratized the media landscape, allowing anyone to create and distribute content to their friends and family. There are a lot of good things about this, but it's also proving to have a serious downside: Without the quality filters traditionally supplied by mainstream media outlets, there's a lot more room for total nonsense to circulate widely.
The increasing polarization of news through social media allows liberals and conservatives to live in different versions of reality. And that's making it harder and harder for our democratic system to function.