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Reach Of “Fake News” During Elections May Not Be as Extensive as Feared, Says Research

The research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, showed that untrustworthy websites accounted for only six per cent of all Americans' news diets on average during the period before and immediately after the U.S. presidential election

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Online misinformation is a serious problem, but one that we can only address appropriately if we know the magnitude of the problem. Pixabay

The reach of the so called “fake news” websites during elections may not be as widespread as commonly feared as researchers have found that visits to untrustworthy websites only account for a small portion of a voter’s news diet.

The research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, showed that untrustworthy websites accounted for only six per cent of all Americans’ news diets on average during the period before and immediately after the U.S. presidential election.

Less than half of all Americans visited an untrustworthy website during the period, said the study. The Rea”These findings show why we need to measure exposure to ‘fake news’ rather than just assuming it is ubiquitous online,” said Brendan Nyhan, Professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, 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.

To assess the audience for “fake news,” the researchers measured visits to these dubious websites during the period before and immediately after the election using an online survey of 2,525 Americans and web traffic data collected by YouGov Pulse between October 7-November 16, 2016 from respondents’ laptops or desktop computers.

The U.S. presidential election that year was held on November 8. Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

The results of the study showed that visits to dubious news sites differed sharply along ideological and partisan lines. Content from untrustworthy conservative sites accounted for nearly five per cent of people’s news diets compared to less than one per cent for untrustworthy liberal sites.

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The reach of the so called “fake news” websites during elections may not be as widespread as commonly feared as researchers have found that visits to untrustworthy websites only account for a small portion of a voter’s news diet. Pixabay

Respondents who identified themselves as Trump supporters were also more likely to visit an untrustworthy site (57 per cent) than those who indicated that they were Clinton supporters (28 per cent). The data also revealed that Facebook was the most prominent gateway to untrustworthy websites.

Respondents were more likely to have visited Facebook than Google, Twitter or a webmail platform such as Gmail in the period immediately before visiting an untrustworthy website. Finally, the study demonstrates that fact-checking websites appeared to be relatively ineffective in reaching the audiences of untrustworthy websites.

ALSO READ: 29% People in US Have an Unfavourable View of Facebook: Survey

Only 44 per cent of respondents who visited such a website also visited a fact-checking site during the study, and almost none of them had read a fact-check debunking specific claims made in a potentially questionable article. (IANS)

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Spread of Fake News on high Rise on Facebook, Twitter Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic

Jumbling of content makes viewers less likely to check sources

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The findings of a researcch show the dangers of people getting their news from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, Pixabay

In novel coronavirus times, there is so much fake news going around and according to new research, there’s a price to pay when you get your news and political information from the same place you find funny memes and cat pictures.

Jumbling of content makes viewers less likely to check sources, said the team from Ohio State University, adding that people viewing a blend of news and entertainment on a social media site tended to pay less attention to the source of content they consumed – meaning they could easily mistake satire or fiction for real news.

“The findings show the dangers of people getting their news from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter,” said study author George Pearson, a senior lecturer and research associate in communication at The Ohio State University.

“We are drawn to these social media sites because they are one-stop shops for media content, updates from friends and family, and memes or cat pictures,” Pearson added. People who viewed content that was clearly separated into categories – such as current affairs and entertainment – didn’t have the same issues evaluating the source and credibility of content they read.

“Jumbling of content makes everything seem the same to us. It makes it harder for us to distinguish what we need to take seriously from that which is only entertainment,” said Pearson in the study appeared in the journal New Media & Society. For the study, Pearson created a fictional social media site called “Link Me.”

The 370 participants saw four webpages with either two or four posts each. Each post consisted of a headline and short paragraph summarizing the story, as well as information on the source of the post. The sources were designed to be either high or low credibility, based on their name and description.

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 In novel coronavirus times, there is so much fake news going around and according to new research, there’s a price to pay when you get your news and political information from the same place you find funny memes and cat pictures. Pixabay

All posts were based on real articles or public social media posts taken from Reddit or Tumblr. The results showed that when the content was not grouped by distinct topics – in other words, news posts appeared on the same page with entertainment posts – participants reported paying less attention to the source of the content.

“They were less likely to verify source information to ensure that it was a credible source,” said Pearson. That may be one reason why satirical and other types of fake news get shared by people who evidently think it is real. One solution would be for social media companies to develop tools to distinguish content.

ALSO READ: Rise in Temperature May Double The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Study

But until that happens, it is up to users to pay more attention to where their news is coming from – as difficult as that may be. (IANS)