People aged 65 and older who identify as right-wing are up to seven times more likely to share fake news on social media than millennials and liberals, according to a newly published study.
During the 2016 US presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, researchers from the universities of Princeton and New York analysed the Facebook timelines of around 1,300 people who had agreed to take part in the survey.
The study – outlined in a paper in journal Science Advances – found that around 9% of the survey participants had circulated false or misleading content. Of this group, 38 were Republicans, while 17 were Democrats.
This political disparity “becomes even more significant when viewed more broadly: of all survey respondents who allowed researchers to track their sharing history, 18.1% of Republican respondents and 3.5% of Democrats spread at least one fake news story”, says science magazine Discover.
Independent voters – who comprised a far smaller segment of respondents than those from the two major parties – were also found to be more likely to share fake news than Democrats.
The ages of the respondents had a strong bearing on who shared fake news, too, with subjects aged 65 and older being seven times more likely to share fake news than participants aged 18 to 29 years old. The older group was also almost three times more likely to spread false stories than people in the 45-to-65 age range.
According to New Scientist, depending on how you define fake news, the total “proportion of people sharing it could be even higher” than the survey suggests. Study co-author Andrew Guess, an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton, told the magazine that the research team had only looked at “knowingly false or misleading content created largely for the purpose of generating ad revenue”, which he described as a “small subset”.
Neverthless, notes New Scientist, the researchers “suggest the sharing of fake news has been exaggerated” and is actually “relatively rare” on social media.
“The focus tends to be on headline-grabbing engagement numbers that are likely wildly inflated,” Guess said. “So we’re trying to push against such perceptions with good representative data… The point is that both consumption and sharing [of fake news] seem to be concentrated among a relatively small percentage.”