Facebook promotes fake news more than other social media: Study

When it comes to election misinformation on social media, Facebook has the upper hand, according to a new study that shows heavy Facebook users are much more likely to be exposed to fake news than Twitter or other media outlets. other social networking sites.

The study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed journal Government Information Quarterly, found that Facebook users read the most fake news about the 2020 US presidential election and reported relationships. most concerned about votes not being counted correctly.

They also found that the biggest factor leading to whether a reporter was skeptical about an election result was their level of reception of fake news, not their voting method.

According to research, a big part of the problem with relying on social media for news is that these sites have algorithms designed to keep you scrolling and engaged, meaning they are likely to continue providing gives you the same content you are interacting with. and makes it harder for you to get out of the misinformation hole once you’re in it.

“What we found in this study is that if you’re not careful, the bias you put into your news consumption can be fully confirmed and supported if you’re in a place like Facebook, where algorithms provide that information,” said Robert Crossler, study co-author and associate professor at WSU Carson College of Business, in a press release.

Research shows that people who get news about the 2020 election primarily by navigating directly on a news website are less likely to receive fake news and more likely to believe the election happened the way it was.

US President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 comes with unproven allegations made by former US President Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him and many votes for him were lost. not counted. Allegations of voter fraud with mail-in ballots and with Dominion voting machines went viral after the election, but none of these allegations went to court and few legal experts backed them up. support this point of view.

However, the lack of actual support did not stop the story from spreading widely on social media.

It’s not new that Facebook and other social media sites can be a source of misinformation and fake news, but measuring fake news consumption affects a person’s perception of how much more complicated the reality would be.

To better understand this, research led by Washington State University designed three surveys related to political affiliation, fake news consumption, and voting methods, each affecting specifically to one’s perception of the election.

In the study, “fake news” was defined as articles and websites that spread misinformation that were proven to be inaccurate, not articles or websites whose information was believed to be false. partisan points.

The first two surveys were conducted for different groups of voters before the election, both containing hypothetical scenarios for participants to react to.

The first poses a scenario in which participants will vote in person, by mail, or online. After participants had read the script about their voting method, they were asked questions about how worried they were about whether the votes were counted properly and how much information they received from them. various news organizations.

The second survey presented a scenario where all voters who needed to use a mail-in ballot would be counted by a government official, neutral party or voting machine. They were then asked again about their concerns regarding the number of votes counted and their news source.

The third survey was presented to an actual group of voters after the election. Participants filled in what their voting method was, then answered the same questions presented in the two previous surveys. They then report what percentage of their news they get from live navigation, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites.

The researchers were surprised to find that the method of voting – whether people vote by mail or in person – had no measurable effect on the likelihood that participants were worried about the fact that votes are not counted correctly.

Instead, the more people say they get news from a social network, especially Facebook, the more likely they are to worry a lot about votes not being counted.

This suggests to the researchers that Facebook, more than other social media sites, is the source of these fears.

“I don’t think Facebook is intentionally directing people to fake news, but there’s something about the way their algorithms are designed compared to other algorithms that are really directing people to that kind of content,” Stachofsky said. . “It’s amazing how hard it is to find the sites Facebook is directing people to when we search for them in a web browser. Research shows that not all social media platforms are created equal when it comes to spreading intentional misinformation.”

The study also found no age group was more likely to read fake news, which is different from other studies, which suggest that there may be a higher percentage of young people viewing fake news than previously thought. .

The authors note that more research needs to be done to understand how misinformation spreads and how to combat it, especially in a political climate where partisan divides in the United States are at work. increasing distrust towards the mainstream media. They hope that this research can prompt social media sites to think more about how their algorithms impact users.

“This supports the argument that people should be encouraged to become information or news savvy,” says Crossler. “Right now, we are talking about elections, but there are many other issues, such as the war in Ukraine, where directing people to misinformation is not only misleading but also potentially dangerous. danger.”

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