by Jeff Glorfeld
the influence of fake news
are significantly inflated,
of 2016 Presidential election
found most people
didn't fall for
During the 2016 US
presidential elections, the phrase "fake news" emerged as a
significant talking point in political conversations around the
But how much it was
actually disseminated during the campaign?
According to a new paper (Less
than you Think - Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News
dissemination on Facebook) published in the journal
Science Advances, the answer is:
not a lot...
Written by researchers
led by Andrew Guess, a political scientist from Princeton
University in the US, it says,
"the sharing of
articles from fake news domains was a rare activity".
It also says that
Americans over the age of 65, and especially those who describe
themselves as "very conservative", were more likely than any other
demographic to share fake news to their
Both the supply and consumption of fake news during the campaign
showed an "overwhelming" bias in favor of the Republican
presidential candidate - and eventual winner:
Guess described the age-related discovery as "our most robust
finding". It remained dominant even after potential confounding
factors such as,
and partisanship were taken into account.
demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect
on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more
notable," he says.
The report notes that
scholars and commentators have raised concerns about the
implications of fake news for the quality of democratic discourse,
along with the spread of misinformation more generally.
As for assertions that such content had a persuasive impact that
could have affected the election outcome,
"the best evidence,"
the researchers conclude, "suggests that these claims are
Guess and colleagues
admit the term "fake news" is amorphous and subject to
For the sake of this
report, they settled on stories that contained,
"knowingly false or
misleading content created largely for the purpose of generating
"Given the difficulty of establishing a commonly accepted
ground-truth standard for what constitutes fake news, our
approach was to build on the work of both journalists and
academics who worked to document the prevalence of this content
over the course of the 2016 election campaign," the authors
They also adopted the
work of BuzzFeed journalist
Craig Silverman, who took the
lead in covering the "fake news" story as it developed, compiling
lists of websites known to be purveyors of intentionally false
election-related stories generating the most Facebook engagement.
They were also careful to exclude websites that could be construed
as partisan or hyperpartisan, rather than intentionally or
systematically factually inaccurate.
Using this approach, the researchers combined multiple sources
across the political spectrum to generate a list of fake news
stories specifically debunked by fact-checking organizations.
Using a Facebook survey and web application as a primary source of
data, they found that people visited the platform more often than
they did outlets from which the fake news was originating,
powerful role for the social network".
With the permission of
survey respondents and Facebook itself, Guess and colleagues
accessed each person's social media activity and share history.
They found that,
"the vast majority of
Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake
news domains in 2016 at all, and 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.
Sharing of stories
from fake news domains is a much rarer event than sharing links