The reach of commercially motivated junk news on Facebook

PLoS One. 2019 Aug 1;14(8):e0220446. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220446. eCollection 2019.


Commercially motivated junk news-i.e. money-driven, highly shareable clickbait with low journalistic production standards-constitutes a vast and largely unexplored news media ecosystem. Using publicly available Facebook data, we compared the reach of junk news on Facebook pages in the Netherlands to the reach of Dutch mainstream news on Facebook. During the period 2013-2017 the total number of user interactions with junk news significantly exceeded that with mainstream news. Over 5 Million of the 10 Million Dutch Facebook users have interacted with a junk news post at least once. Junk news Facebook pages also had a significantly stronger increase in the number of user interactions over time than mainstream news. Since the beginning of 2016 the average number of user interactions per junk news post has consistently exceeded the average number of user interactions per mainstream news post.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / methods
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Journalism / statistics & numerical data
  • Mass Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Netherlands
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

From March 2017 through January 2018 Leiden University’s Nieuwscheckers project, supervised by authors PB and AP, received payments from Facebook for its services as a third-party fact-checker, publishing fact-checks of Facebook posts that were reported by users as potentially fake. The third-party fact-checkers have complete editorial independence, warranted by their adherence to the principles of the International Fact- Checking Network (IFCN). Burger and Pleijter did not receive payments from Facebook in order to fund this study, nor did Facebook have any role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.