As we all know, social media is even more polarized — and polarizing — than the rest of American society. It’s where people go to rant, rave and all-caps scream about politics and the media. If not for social media, fake news would not be spreading as rapidly as it is in 2018. But not all social media accounts are equal when it comes to spreading falsehoods and creating online echo chambers.
According to a new study from the University of Oxford that looked at junk news and political polarization among groups of American Facebook and Twitter users, political conservatives are more likely to share junk news. (“Junk news,” or fake news, is defined as media that is purposely misleading, deceptive or incorrect and which aims to convince readers that it is real news.)
Of the accounts followed and the fake news sites shared, Trump supporters were the most egregious spreaders of junk news. Twitter accounts found to be Trump supporters shared news from 96 percent of the fake news sites the study authors monitored, while 55 percent of the fake news shared during the study came from Trump supporters. Conservative media also shared false stories from a wide range of outlets — 95 percent of the outlets looked at — but were responsible for sharing much less of it, with only 20 percent of the fake news spread coming from those accounts. Closing out the top tweeters of fake news was the anti-Trump “Resistance,” which shared 18 percent of the overall fake news seen during the study, and got that news from 62 percent of the verified fake news outlets that were followed.
The remaining fake news shared – comprised only 6 percent of the total. Two groups — Democratic Party members and local news outlets — shared zero fake news on their Twitter accounts.
On Facebook, the top fake news shares came from hard conservatives, who were responsible for sharing 58 percent of the fake news from 91 percent of the outlets monitored. The Democratic Party members and Occupy-associated accounts were next in line, sharing 12 and 7 percent of the fake news, respectively. The only accounts monitored that didn’t share fake news on Facebook were those connected to public health organizations and initiatives. The rest of the accounts followed shared between 1 and 5 percent of the fake news seen during the three-month study.
What does this mean for your social media feed? It means that if you’re following a lot of political party or activist accounts, you’re getting a heavy diet of fake news. To avoid living in a fake news echo chamber, we suggest following these tips from journalists to make sure you’re getting real news from a trusted source. You can also read these books to learn how to verify your news and avoid the fake stuff, or follow the short and sweet Three S’s rules to add some quality news to your diet.
For more information on the Oxford study, you can check out the full report and all their methodology here.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.