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Less Than You Think: Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News Dissemination on Facebook
Who shares fake news on social media, and how often? Our research finds that, although fake news was rarely shared during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, conservatives and older users were more likely to do so.
Guess, Andrew M., Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Less than You Think: Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News Dissemination on Facebook.” Science Advances 5, no. 1 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau4586
Jan 09, 2019
Area of Study
So-called “fake news” has renewed concerns about the prevalence and effects of misinformation in political campaigns. Given the potential for widespread dissemination of this material, we examine the individual-level characteristics associated with sharing false articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. To do so, we uniquely link an original survey with respondents’ sharing activity as recorded in Facebook profile data. First and foremost, we find that sharing this content was a relatively rare activity. Conservatives were more likely to share articles from fake news domains, which in 2016 were largely pro-Trump in orientation, than liberals or moderates. We also find a strong age effect, which persists after controlling for partisanship and ideology: On average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group.
“Fake news” — false or misleading content intentionally dressed up to look like news articles, often for the purpose of generating ad revenue — has renewed concerns about the prevalence, effects, and potential for widespread dissemination of misinformation in political campaigns following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
To better understand the phenomenon, we examine the individual characteristics associated with sharing false articles during the election. Specifically, we look at respondents’ Facebook sharing history during the campaign, avoiding known biases in self-reports of online activity. Posts containing links to external websites are cross-referenced against lists of fake news publishers built by journalists and academics.
Overall, we find that fake news was rarely shared during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. We find that conservatives were more likely to share fake news articles, which in 2016 were largely pro-Trump. Age is also strongly correlated with the likelihood of sharing fake news. On average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group. This is true even when holding other characteristics — including education, ideology, and partisanship — constant. No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more notable.