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Facebook generates more fake news than other social networks: study

When it comes to election misinformation on social media, Facebook takes the cake, according to a new study that found heavy Facebook users were significantly more likely to consume fake news than Twitter or other social media 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 the highest concern that votes were not being counted correctly.

They also found that the most important factor in determining whether someone said they were wary of election results was their level of consumption of fake news, not how they voted.

According to the study, a big part of the problem with relying on social media for news is that these sites have algorithms designed to scroll and engage you, which means they are likely to continue to serve you. the same content you interact with. and make it harder to get out of a misinformation hole once you’re in it.

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

According to the study, those who learned about the 2020 election primarily by browsing directly to a news website were less likely to consume fake news and were more likely to believe the election had happened. as she did.

US President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory was accompanied by unproven allegations by former US President Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him and that many votes for him went uncounted. Allegations of voter fraud with mail-in ballots and with Dominion voting machines spread after the election, but none of these allegations made it to court and few legal experts supported this position. .

However, the lack of factual evidence has not stopped the story from spreading widely on social media.

It’s not new that Facebook and other social media sites can be conduits for misinformation and fake news, but it’s harder to measure how much the consumption of fake news affects a person’s perception of reality.

To better understand this, the Washington State University-led study designed three surveys of how political alignment, fake news consumption, and method of voting each individually impacted a person’s perception of the election.

In the study, “fake news” was defined as articles and sites spreading disinformation that were proven to be incorrect, not articles or sites containing information that was perceived to be false in any way. partisan view.

The first two surveys were administered to different groups of voters ahead of the election, both containing hypothetical scenarios that participants might react to.

The first postulated a scenario in which the participant would vote either in person, by mail, or online. After the participant had read the script of their voting method, they were asked questions about their level of concern about the correct vote count and the amount of news they received from various news outlets.

The second survey gave the scenario of all voters having to use absentee ballots which would be counted either by a government official, a neutral party or a voting machine. They were then questioned again about their concerns about the vote count and their sources of information.

The third poll was presented to a group of actual voters after the election. Participants indicated their method of voting and then answered the same questions presented in the previous two polls. They then listed the percentage of their news they got from direct browsing, Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites.

The researchers were surprised to find that the method of voting — whether people voted by mail or in person — had no measurable impact on the likelihood that participants were concerned that votes weren’t counted correctly.

Instead, the more a person said they received their news from social media, especially Facebook, the more likely they were to be strongly concerned about votes not being counted.

This suggested to researchers that Facebook, more than other social media sites, elevates the sources that spread these fears.

“I don’t think Facebook is purposely directing people to fake news, but something about the way their algorithm is designed compared to other algorithms is actually directing people to this type of content,” Stachofsky said. “It was surprising how difficult it was to find the websites that Facebook directed people to when we searched for them in a web browser. Research shows that not all social media platforms are created equal when it comes to spreading intentionally misleading information.

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

The authors noted that more research needs to be conducted to understand how disinformation spreads and how it can be countered, especially in a political climate where partisan division in the United States is increasing distrust of mainstream media. . They hope this study will inspire social media sites to think more about the impact of their algorithms on their users.

“It supports the argument that people need to be encouraged to be news or current-literate,” Crossler said. “Right now we’re talking about the election, but there are a lot of other issues, like the war in Ukraine, where directing people to misinformation is not only misleading but also potentially dangerous.”

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