A recent study has delved into the spread of fake news on Facebook during the final six months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, and it seems only a small percentage of people shared links to false articles.
Around 1,300 people used an app that allowed researchers to track links to external sites posted on their timelines. These were then compared to a database of “fake news” sources. As reported in Science Advances, only 8.5 percent of Facebook users in the US shared at least one false article between April and November 2016. Certainly a small number percentage-wise, but it corresponds to almost 14.5 million people, given the users on Facebook based in the United States.
"Despite widespread interest in the fake news phenomenon, we know very little about who actually shares fake news," co-author Joshua Tucker, a professor of politics at NYU, said in a statement. "This study takes a first step towards answering this question. Perhaps most significantly, we find that sharing this type of content on Facebook was a relatively rare activity during the 2016 presidential campaign."
Education, income, and gender appear not to be related to the propensity to share fake news, but a strong discriminant was age. The researchers found that 11 percent of those over the age of 65 shared fake news compared to 3 percent of those in the 18-29 age bracket.
"If seniors are more likely to share fake news than younger people, then there are important implications for how we might design interventions to reduce the spread of fake news," explained lead author Andrew Guess, an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University.
Another factor highlighted by the research team was a strong partisan difference between those who shared fake news and those who didn’t. Fake news links were shared by 18 percent of people who identified themselves as Republican but only by less than 4 percent of people who identify themselves as Democrats. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a simple “Republicans are more gullible”. The amount of fake news in the election campaign was definitely pro-Trump and anti-Clinton and people tend to share things that confirm their biases.
"This is consistent with the pro-Trump slant of most fake news articles produced during the 2016 campaign," they write, "and of the tendency of respondents to share articles they agree with, and thus might not represent a greater tendency of conservatives to share fake news than liberals conditional on being exposed to it."