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Less Than You Think: Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News Dissemination on Facebook

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Less Than You Think: Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News Dissemination on Facebook

Andrew Guess et al. Sci Adv.

Abstract

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.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1. Distribution of total and fake news shares.
(Left) Histogram of the total number of links to articles on the web shared by respondents in the sample who identified as Democrats, Republicans, or independents. (Right) Stacked histogram of the number of fake news articles shared by respondents who identified as Democrats, Republicans, or independents using the measure derived from (7).
Fig. 2
Fig. 2. Average number of fake news shares (and 95% CIs) using the list of domains derived from (7).
(A) Party identification, (B) age group, (C) ideological self-placement, and (D) overall number of Facebook wall posts. Proportions adjusted to account for sample-matching weights derived from the third wave of the SMaPP YouGov panel survey.

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