Few Share Fake News; Those Who Do Are Mostly Older Republicans

By Gemma Tarlach | January 9, 2019 1:00 pm
Facebook users 65 and up and self-described Republicans were the most likely group to share fake news, according to new research. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Facebook users 66 and up and self-described Republicans were the most likely group to share fake news, according to new research. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers combing through survey respondents’ Facebook data have determined that only about one in 10 users shared articles from fake news domains during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and even fewer shared more than one article. Individuals who did share fake news were more likely to be both self-described Republicans and 66 or older.

Politicians and civilians alike have expressed concern over the apparent rise of fake news — false information presented in the guise of a legitimate news article — over the past few years. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in particular, these kinds of false news stories flooded Facebook and other social media platforms, raising concerns about their influence on voters.

To better understand how many people shared links to fake news, and the demographics of those who did, researchers sent an online survey to Facebook users during the campaign. More than 1,300 respondents allowed the team to access their Facebook profile data and chart their sharing history during the year. Researchers then compared the domains of the links shared with a list of known fake news sites.

Ninety Percent Plus Just Said No

According to the results of their analysis, 91.5 percent of study participants did not share any links to fake news generated by those sites. Of the 10 percent who did, more than half shared only one faux article.

Individuals who shared sketchy stories were more than twice as likely to be self-identified Republicans than Democrats (38 Republicans compared with 17 Democrats). The disparity becomes even more significant when viewed more broadly: Of all survey respondents who allowed researchers to track their sharing history, 18.1 percent of Republican respondents and 3.5 percent of Democrats spread at least one fake news story.

Independents, who comprised a smaller segment of respondents, were also more likely to share fake news than Democrats.

Respondents who were 66 and older were seven times more likely to share fake news than participants who were 18-29 years old. The older set was also nearly three times more likely to spread the fake stories than individuals in the 45-65 age range.

Teach Them Well

The researchers concluded that additional work needs to be done to understand how older people in particular evaluate material on social media platforms and whether their greater likelihood of sharing fake news is due to unfamiliarity with the medium or can be linked to age-related cognitive issues, including memory.

The authors also suggested developing educational methods to improve media literacy and help users of all ages determine the veracity of a story before they click “share.”

The paper’s scope was limited in a number of ways. Only links to domains on a curated list of fake sites were considered fake news, for example. Participants also strongly self-selected: Only half of the survey respondents allowed the researchers to access their sharing history, a crucial part of the study.

The research appears today in Science Advances.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, social media
  • Mike Richardson

    I know it’s just anecdotal, but from what I’ve seen from my relatives on Facebook, I sadly have to agree with the findings of that study.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    Global Warming, Social Justice, 35 genders, #MeToo, diversity, anti-Trump, SANCTUARY! – all that Lügenpresse being old fart Republican agendas? No. We haven’t observed Democraps being so ballistically murderous since Abraham Lincoln confiscated their slaves.

    You were indoctrinated not educated.

    • Mike Richardson

      …and helping to prove the point of the article, I present Uncle Al.

      • OWilson

        See my post above!

        • OWilson

          I see by your downtick, you did Mikey! :)

          Thank you!

          • Mike Richardson

            Talking to yourself? 😏 Not a good sign…

          • OWilson

            As long I see your obligatory downtick, Mikey (little DISQUS hack) I am assured that I am not losing my most consistent, if anonymous, follower!


          • Mike Richardson

            If you’re so starved for attention that you consider disapproval a positive, I suppose it’s the least I can do to respond appropriately to the posts that warrant it. You’re welcome. 😉

          • OWilson


            I post here specifically for the varied responses I get :)

            It’s highly educational, and helps point out the vastly differing worldviews presented here. One can learn a lot by posting here.

            (but I hate to see flawed Facebook “studies” used to knee-jerk denigrate a regular poster here on a science blog!)

            Isn’t that how your Russian Traitor found his way into your White House? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            “Isn’t that how your Russian Traitor found his way into your White House? :)”

            Indeed, fake news posts on Facebook do appear to have found fertile ground in the minds of older conservatives, and helped him win. Actual news, on the other hand, is increasingly supporting your characterization of Trump, even if you were attempting to be facetious. Things are really getting interesting now, right? 😏

          • OWilson

            Rumor, speculation, wishfull thinking and wild predictions, in politics, or science hold no currency for me, Mikey.

            There’s always that “experts scratching their heads” moment when their predictions turn out to be fake!

            See “Trump has no path to……” (fill in the gap!) or “Arctic ice gone in 5 years”!

            I’ll wait for Mueller’s Report!


          • Mike Richardson

            And in the meantime you’ll just continue being an “unabashed supporter” of the most corrupt, venal, dishonest, petty, and ignorant man ever to hold the office of the U. S. Presidency, right? Those characterizations are easily supported just on public information and the historical record, yet you continue to excuse that simply because the man is a right-wing authoritarian, whereas anyone moderate or left of center with even a fraction of those flaws earns your swift condemnation. It’s that hypocrisy that makes me look forward to the inevitable end game, and whatever pathetic excuses you make for Trump when the Mueller report and Cohen’s testimony confirms just how criminal this administration is. You’re the one engaging in wishful thinking and dogmatic adherence to a political philosophy, ignoring right-wing corruption just as you ignore science which conflicts with your belief system. To quote your the man you so unabashedly support, “Sad!”

          • OWilson

            Trump’s election has contributed to the Swamp draining of status quo gravy train Washington, D.C. Fake Media, the fall of the very highest icons in News, Hollywood and other public areas, not to mention the FBI.

            I doubt, that Hillary would have decimated her financial and political supporters so thoroughly, had she prevailed.

            I think that is a good thing for America, a “house cleaning” if you will.

            Even, if Trump himself becomes a victim of same!

            People have, for the first time, been educated as to what is really going in their “trusted institutions”, and that is good for your country!


          • Mike Richardson

            “LOL” is an appropriate closing, for once. You’d have to be truly delusional to seriously believe any of what you just said. Fortunately, not too many other folks appear to take you that seriously, either. 😁

          • OWilson

            I’m not responsible for what others choose to believe, Mikey!

            No mi problemo!

            But I do know that intelligent people will not be accepting the ‘devine wisdom’ passed down to the masses, by their betters in News, Politics, Entertainment, and even some branches of speculative science, at face value, anymore.

            Pandora is out of the box!

            But I gave you a little opportunity to rant here, but just the word count in your posts tells me you are not interested in a rational discussion!

            This thread alone: To me:

            “starved for attention”




            To your duly elected President:

            “corrupt, venal, dishonest, petty, and ignorant

            Your “rational side” is always taken over by your vile side, and we always finish up in the same place, at the bottom of your own personal ad hominem Swamp


            Bye for now, Mikey!

          • Mike Richardson

            “Your “rational side” is always taken over by your vile side, and we always finish up in the same place, at the bottom of your own personal ad hominem Swamp”. — itself an ad hominem, and further evidence of your hypocrisy. Thanks for the assist. LOL! 😏

          • OWilson

            Anytime, Mikey! :)

  • OWilson

    One should beware of drawing conclusions from Facebook “survey respondents”. They may not be real people. Maybe bots.

    See, “Widely cited study of fake news retracted by researchers” – By Lilly Dancyger, Rolling Stone January 11, 2019, as cited in NYP

    Stories about fake news can be fake news!

  • Carl Mueller

    I fall within the demographic of this study (68 years old), but with two master’s degrees (M.A., International Relations, University of Southern California, 1985; and M.A., Teaching Foreign Language, 1991), I tend to be less prone to falling for “fake news.” One recent example: the BuzzFeed “impeachment porn” article. I was already familiar with one of the co-authors (Jason Leopold) who wrote an article for Truthout in 2006, “reporting” the indictment of Karl Rove. Thirteen years have passed, and we’re still waiting for that alleged indictment. Yet with his latest article, the mainstream media breathlessly reported that “if true, THIS WILL MEAN THE END OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY!!!!” Such examples abound. In fact, Glenn Greenwald recently posted an article entitled “Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump/Russia Story.”


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