Reach of 'fake news' during 2016 US presidential elections overstated: Study

Washington, Mar 3 (PTI) The reach of untrustworthy 'fake news' websites during the 2016 US presidential elections, and speculation about the prevalence of exposure to them during the campaign 'has been overstated,' according to a study.

The research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, said that articles from untrustworthy websites that featured factually dubious claims about politics and the 2016 presidential campaign were shared by millions of people on Facebook.

Some journalists and researchers had even suggested that fake news may have been responsible for US President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 elections, it noted.

Researchers, including those from Princeton University in the US, measured visits to these dubious and unreliable websites during the period before and immediately after the election using an online survey of 2,525 Americans and web traffic data collected from respondents' laptops or desktop computers.

According to their findings, less than half of all Americans visited an untrustworthy website.

'These results suggest that the widespread speculation about the prevalence of exposure to untrustworthy websites has been overstated,' the researchers wrote in the study.

The scientists said that untrustworthy websites accounted for only six per cent of all Americans' news diets on average.

They added that visits to these dubious news sites differed sharply along ideological and partisan lines.

Content from untrustworthy conservative sites accounted for nearly 5 per cent of people's news diets compared to less than 1 per cent for dubious liberal sites, the study noted.

Survey respondents who self-identified as Trump supporters were more likely to visit an untrustworthy site than those who indicated that they were Hillary Clinton supporters, the researchers said.

According to the researchers, Facebook was the most prominent gateway to these 'fake news' websites.

They said respondents were more likely to have visited Facebook than Google, Twitter, or a webmail platform such as Gmail in the period immediately before visiting a dubious website.

Fact-checking websites appeared to be relatively ineffective in reaching the audiences of 'fake news' sites, the scientists added.

They said only 44 per cent of respondents who visited such a website also visited a fact-checking site during the study.

Almost none of them had read a fact-check debunking specific claims made in a potentially questionable article, the study noted.

'These findings show why we need to measure exposure to 'fake news' rather than just assuming it is ubiquitous online,' said Brendan Nyhan, a co-author of the study from Dartmouth College in the US.

'Online misinformation is a serious problem, but one that we can only address appropriately if we know the magnitude of the problem,' Nyhan said. PTI VIS VIS VIS