Using web browsing data, a 1,200-person post-election online survey and a database of 156 election-related news stories that were categorized as false by leading fact-checking websites, researchers looking at the scope of the “fake news” problem in the U.S. arrived at a number of key findings.
Economics professors Hunt Allcott from New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University found that “fake news was both widely shared and heavily tilted in favor of Donald Trump. Our database contains 115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times.”
The researchers also explored the rate at which voters were exposed to fake news. “The upper end of previously reported statistics for the ratio of page visits to shares of stories on social media would suggest that the 38 million shares of fake news in our database translates into 760 million instances of a user clicking through and reading a fake news story, or about three stories read per American adult.”
With further analysis involving their online survey, Allcott and Gentzkow estimate that the average adult saw and remembered 1.14 fake stories. The researchers also found that education level, age, and total media consumption are strongly associated with more accurate beliefs about whether headlines are true or false.
Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election (No. w23089). National Bureau of Economic Research.