A new analysis of ‘fake news’ on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election campaign in America shows that over 65s are the most likely group to share this type of news.
Only a small percentage of people in America (less than 9 percent) shared links to ‘fake news’ sites on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Researchers at New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) Lab and Princeton University analysed the data and found that the behaviour was disproportionately common among over 65s.
Joshua Tucker, a professor of politics at NYU and co-director of the SMaPP Lab, said: “Despite widespread interest in the fake news phenomenon, we know very little about who actually shares fake news. This study takes a first step towards answering this question.”
The 2016 presidential election campaign in America
The study participants were drawn from a panel survey conducted by the polling firm YouGov. Only 8.5 percent of these participants shared links from ‘fake news’ sites on Facebook.
The sharing of links to so-called ‘fake news’ sites on Facebook during this time was not a common behaviour.
Tucker commented: “Perhaps most significantly, we find that sharing this type of content on Facebook was a relatively rare activity during the 2016 presidential campaign.”
Age as a factor in sharing ‘fake news’
Only 3 percent of 18-29 year olds shared links from ‘fake news’ sites. Comparatively, 11 percent of over 65s shared the same type of content.
Criticially, the association with age seems to be independent of respondents’ ideological and partisan affiliations.
Andrew Guess, an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, added: “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.”
What percentage of Democrats and Republicans shared fake news links?
The study found that education, income, and gender were not systemically related to being more likely to share the links. However, the researchers did find a partisan difference.
18 percent of Republicans shared links to fake news sites, compared to less than 4 percent of Democrats. However, the researchers have cautioned against associating ideology with an underlying proclivity to share fake news. They explained: “This is consistent with the pro-Trump slant of most fake news articles produced during the 2016 campaign, 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.”