Who consumes the most fake news?

And, are they swayed by it?

Interesting article in the WSJ channeling a study by three political scientists from Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Exeter…

The objective of their study was to validate or refute the common Democratic hypothesis that “fake news” elected Donald Trump … that “Trump voters were duped by fringe websites that traffic in misinformation, and that if those voters were better informed, Hillary Clinton would be president today.”


Their findings may surprise you …


First, the study design:

The researchers designated sites as predominantly “fake news” sites or “hard news” sites”.

For purposes of the study, a site was considered a “fake news” site if it regularly published intentionally fabricated (think: “Hillary runs sex trafficking ring out of pizza parlor”.

But, by their definition, “unintentional reporting mistakes, false statements by politicians or slanted or misleading reports that were not categorically false” were mere venial sins and got a pass.

No word on how they determined intent or deemed reports to be categorically false … or how many venial sins it took to make a site mortally sinful.

Putting those nuances aside …

The researchers collected tracking data on site visits, and then discerned news consumption patterns based political leanings and knowledge.

OK, here’s what they found:

Roughly 1 in 4 American adults visited a fake-news site around the time of the election.

But, these sites accounted for less than 3% of all the news consumed.

Trump supporters were likelier than Clinton backers to visit fake-news sites.

And, “the most ardent conservatives were the most voracious consumers of fake news”.

The 10% of Americans with the most conservative leanings accounted for 60% of visits to fake news websites.

OK, that seems to lend support the hypothesis that Trump partisans were swayed by fake news that reinforced their going-in political attitudes.

But, hold on ….


The study also found that “fake news is a complement to, rather than a substitute for, hard news.

In fact, the most knowledgeable people — as measured by a test on civics and current events — were the likeliest to visit fake-news sites.

It turns out the people likeliest to read false stories are the ones who read lots of hard news too.

That is, visits to fake news websites were highest among people who consume the most hard news.”

Apparently, the more time a person spends surfing news online, the more likely they are to stumble upon and click on provocative, misleading headlines.

But, the researchers found no indication that the fake news changed peoples’ positions.


The study highlights the challenge of even getting to a definition of fake news.

Some content is deeply misleading or fabricated, while other articles instead selectively amplify political events in an over-the-top style that flatters the prejudices of a candidate’s supporters.”

Egregiously false statements are easy to discredit and unlikely to sway the public.

More insidious are widely disseminated intimations with little factual basis, such as those suggesting Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians.

The study further concludes:

Conjecture and commentary increasingly color even hard news.

The biggest threat to an informed electorate isn’t so-called fake news websites, but supposedly trustworthy media organizations that present their political opinions as fact.

In other words, “while fake news is a real problem, the most dangerous distortions are shrouded in a aura of credibility.”




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2 Responses to “Who consumes the most fake news?”

  1. Al Says:

    Of course fake news alone wasn’t sufficient a factor to get 45 elected… His false statements and slanted or misleading reports that were not categorically false” also contributed. And hopefully the country will discover whether conspiracy or collusion with Russia also were contributory factors.
    Oh, and also voter suppression/disenfranchisement could have played a role, too: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/trumps-black-voter-dilemma/505586/

  2. SJ Says:

    Speaking from my personal experience, for most Trump voters the idea of electing Hillary was so repugnant to our intellect that we did not need any incentives from the news, whether “fake” or “real” to pick him over Hillary. So far Trump has turned out to be much better than expected, even he was not even remotely my first choice for Republican presidential candidate.

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