Fake news got more engagement than real news on Facebook in 2020, study says

According to new research, posts of misinformation received six times as many likes, shares, and interactions as legitimate news articles

Nathan Place
New York
Sunday 05 September 2021 17:52
Comments

Biden softens claim that Facebook is ‘killing’ people over Covid misinformation

Leer en Español

On Facebook, fake news was far more popular than real news during the 2020 US election, an upcoming study has shown.

According to The Washington Post, researchers at New York University and France’s Université Grenoble Alpes found that from August 2020 to January 2021, articles from known purveyors of misinformation received six times as many likes, shares, and interactions as legitimate news articles.

The study “helps add to the growing body of evidence that, despite a variety of mitigation efforts, misinformation has found a comfortable home – and an engaged audience – on Facebook,” Dr Rebekah Tromble, head of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University, told the Post.

Facebook says this research doesn’t show the full picture.

“This report looks mostly at how people engage with content from Pages, which represents a very tiny amount of all content on Facebook,” a spokesperson for Facebook told The Independent. “Engagement should also not be confused with how many people actually see it on Facebook. When you look at the content that gets the most reach across Facebook, it is not at all like what this study suggests, as shown in our widely-viewed content report and in studies of the Social Science One condor data set.”

Dr Tromble responded to this point on Twitter, pointing out that the data on “how many people actually see” posts – known as “impressions” – is something Facebook keeps secret.

“Like a broken record, FB responds that the study looks at engagement, not views/impressions. Leaving every researcher to again exasperatedly point out that FB DOESN’T MAKE IMPRESSIONS DATA AVAILABLE,” the professor tweeted. “It’s time for Facebook to put up or shut up. Make the data available for independent, external scrutiny or give up this tired refrain.”

Misinformation on social media has become a particularly serious problem this year, as the United States struggles to get all its citizens vaccinated for Covid-19. Posts promoting false conspiracy theories about the shots have proven extremely popular on Facebook, and may have effectively discouraged some users from getting them.

In July, an analysis of CrowdTangle data showed that nine of the top 15 top-performing Facebook posts about vaccines promoted false or alarmist claims, and were shared hundreds of thousands of times.

That month, President Joe Biden’s frustration with the misinformation boiled over when he blurted out that social media companies were “killing people.” (He later walked back his comments.)

In the NYU-Alpes study, right-wing publishers were found to post more misinformation than left-wing ones. But both right-wing and left-wing misinformation was popular, and publishers from both sides gained a big boost in engagement from publishing it.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in