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.
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.