Fake News

The 'Fake News' Epidemic Was…Fake News

It's "important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms," researchers say.


Gary Waters IKON Images/Newscom

Most social media users still know bullshit when they see it, a new study suggests. In a study of social media behavior during the 2016 election, more than 90 percent of their sample "shared no stories from fake news domains," a trio of researchers reports in Science Advances.

The study has been getting a good deal of media attention, mainly for the parts that confirm people's biases. "Conservatives were more likely to share articles from fake news domains," states the study abstract. And "on average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group."

The conservative bit comes with a caveat: In 2016, fake news domains "were largely pro-Trump in orientation." So it's not necessarily that conservatives are more susceptible than moderates or liberals to propaganda; it could just be that there was more propaganda aimed at them.

The research team—Andrew Guess of Princeton, Jonathan Nagler of New York University, and Joshua Tucker of New York University—considered the possibility that older people were more likely to be Trump fans. But they found "the age effect remains statistically significant when controlling for ideology and other demographic attributes." Older liberals shared a lot of fake news too.

A common denominator in many visits to hoax articles was scrolling through Facebook. That network appears "to be much more common than other platforms before visits to fake news articles," the study found.

While much has been made over Russian-backed bots and ads promoting propaganda content, the reach and influence of such misinformation attempts may have been greatly overstated. The researchers say it's "farfetched" to suggest that fake news—which they define as "fake or misleading content intentionally dressed up to look like new articles, often for the purpose of generating ad revenue"—had a strong impact on the election's outcome.

It's "important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms," they write.

"The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all," the study notes. Furthermore, "this is not because people generally do not share links: While 3.4% of respondents for whom we have Facebook profile data shared 10 or fewer links of any kind, 310 (26.1%) respondents shared 10 to 100 links during the period of data collection and 729 (61.3%) respondents shared 100 to 1000 links."

Among respondents for whom they had the appropriate data, only 8.5 percent shared any fake news pieces. About 18 percent of the Republican respondents shared at least one fake news article, as did 3.5 percent of Democrats.

Read more about their findings and methodology here.

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  1. Don’t worry, if you thought facebook helping Obama was bad in 2012, get ready for the algorithms they whip out for 2020.

    No roundup? Are we being punished for pushing back against the open borders libertopians?

      1. It used to be formerly… I think?

        But considering I couldn’t keep my promise to be formerly “Here For The Outrage” I might as well keep up the ironic version

        1. Irony is certainly a form that must not be used or permitted without an explicit notice, as it contributes to the highly deceitful falsification of discourse, as well as to the inappropriate, and hence illegal, crossing of very clearly demarcated boundaries. Above all, any form of “parody” should always be explicitly signaled to readers, lest we allow dangerous forms of fakery, even worse than what we hear on a daily basis in the “mainstream” media, to take over our lives here at New York University and even on the campuses of minor colleges across the nation. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:


    1. That’s nothing to the website’s glitchiness all day.

      I even got some 404 errors a few hours ago.

  2. That’s good to know! I always think it’s good to check out the source and learn how to spot bias and bogus info! I wish they taught this more readily and extensively in schools form an early age. We need more informed citizens…

  3. Because when liberals and progressives want fake news they go to WP, NYT, LAT, Huffpo, Slate, VOX, or Move On but of course these gatekeepers can’t provide fake news because they have credentials.

    1. Clearly the study authors have a faulty definition of fake news.

      1. Fox is by far the worst of the majors, almost as bad as Infowars, which is self-evident to any non-goober who follows them all, as we libertarians have done for decades,

        1. self-evident to any non-goober

          Paging Mr. Dumbfuck Hihnsano….

        2. Not even close.

          Fox is no different than ABC or CBS; they just bias to the opposite side. CNN has the worst bias, and has for decades.

          There’s actually plenty of research on the topic. Here, have a few references:
          A Measure of Media Bias [Groseclose, Milyo, 2004]
          Media Bias and Reputation [Gentzkow, Shapiro, 2005]
          Presidents and Front-page News – How America’s Newspapers Cover the Bush Administration [Peake, 2007]
          The Presidency and Local Media – Local Newspaper Coverage of President George W. Bush [Eshbaugh-Soha, Peake, 2008]
          Who’s the Fairest of them All – An Empirical Test for Partisan Bias on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News [Groeling, 2008]
          What Drives Media Slant – Evidence from US Daily Newspapers [Gentzkow, Shapiro, 2010]
          When Corrections Fail [Nyhan, Neifler, 2010]
          Exploring media bias with semantic analysis tools – validation of the Contrast Analysis of Semantic Similarity [Holtzman, Schott, et al., 2010]
          Opening the Political Mind [Nyhan, Reifler, 2011]
          Shifting Ideologies – Re-examining Media Bias [Gasper, 2011]
          THE NEWS MEDIA AS NETWORKED POLITICAL ACTORS – Italian politics [Vaccari, 2011]
          Critique of Groseclose-Milyo [Nyhan, 2012]

  4. So it’s not necessarily that conservatives are more susceptible than moderates or liberals to propaganda; it could just be that there was more propaganda aimed at them.

    Plenty of sources for leftside-aimed propaganda, and from more official seeming sources than Facebook-shared websites.

    1. Yes, but at least those other sites will release tepid retractions months or years later.

      1. Look, when The President says “You can keep your doctor.” you can rest assured it isn’t fake news because he’s The President and he’s not doing it for the ad revenue. “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” is the plain, honest-to-God truth.

        1. Is that any less crazy than the current President and HIS brainwashed goobers?

          Left – Right = Zero
          As we libertarians have known for 50 years.

          1. Why didn’t your mother abort you when she had the chance?

          2. Left – Right = Zero

            Damn, now i feel like i am mocking the handicapped.

    2. But not nearly as many as right-wing — and not so blatant.
      Even more amusing is that the biggest suckers, both left and right, have no clue how badly they are being manipulated — since they never stray from their own deep partisan caves — which makes both such highly self-righteous bloviators,

      Luckily, left and right are now less than 40% combined, and shrinking. Without partisan primaries, we’d be blissfully free of them both, forever. Fo now, we can only hope for their extinction.

      1. Luckily, left and right are now less than 40% combined

        Mr. Dumbfuck Hihnsano to the nearest white courtesy tekephone.

    3. The study apparently failed to identify shares that were accompanied by a comment like this, “Can you believe this crap?” A study that accepts answers without validation is “fake news”. For clarification, consider a study about gun ownership and the number of replies that refer to a mysterious boating accident.

  5. I wonder what the correlation is between Facebook users who are susceptible to fake news and Facebook users who are willing to share their usage data with strangers.

  6. >>>It’s “important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms,” they write.

    more important to not use fakebook.

  7. often for the purpose of generating ad revenue

    Seems kinda fake new-esque to suggest that Russian spookfarms were just in it for the rubles.

  8. I am confused why studies trying to determine gullibility often equate sharing a story with believing in it. Doesn’t anybody every share a story with a ‘getaload of this whopper’ comment attached?

    1. Satire (~2,000 BCE – Jan. 1, 1983)


  9. Thanks ENB, I guess you’ve settled this one for all time.

    Now if we could get some sort of study of all the things the media doesn’t tell us…

    Or, maybe the times when it’s not fake so much as flat out ignorant and mistaken.

    1. Or, would those sorts of items not be considered newsworthy?

      1. Too local.

  10. “on average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group.”

    From the paper: “it is possible that an entire cohort of Americans, now in their 60s and beyond, lacks the level of digital media literacy necessary to reliably determine the trustworthiness of news encountered online”.

    That’s a nice way to put it. Another way would be to describe them as the last generation that were raised to trust essentially everything that they saw published. “If it was published, it must be true.” My parents were freaked out by the entire concept of wikipedia. How could there possibly be a source of information that was provided by random people instead of curated by some definitive authority? They stayed the hell away from it and any info that they heard was linked to it.

    But, they would still believe without question any “news” article that some friend/relative emailed to them.

    1. Is it any coincidence that those over 60 that you allude to are Boomers?

  11. Elizabeth, I think you’ve made an error.

    The ‘epidemic of fake news’ refers to the mass of fake news stories the MSM has been putting out as part of their continuous tantrum over Trump’s election victory over Hillary and the entirety of their forces.

    The idea that facebook and other social media was infested with ‘fake news’ is actually a part of that tantrum.

    This study is as well.

    1. That’s no error. It’s the *narrative*. We were never at war with East Asia. We’ve always been at war with West Asia.

  12. Fake news is 1 in 4 college women are raped. Fake news is the gender wage gap at 77%. Fake news doesn’t come from a Russian domain.

    1. + 77%

  13. Next, tell us about agenda driven opinion appearing in most of the main stream media. Promoted by the 1% in their interests (increased population, less regulation, low interest rates, importation of labor) the messages are effective in deceiving a substantial part of the populace.

  14. Do they happen to name the “fake news domains” studied?

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