In The News / News Feature

Hard right dominates use of fake US news, Oxford study finds

The project’s work on junk news and polarization was covered in the Financial Times.

Ultra-rightwing conservatives shared more false stories on Facebook  than all other political groups combined in the three months to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last month, independent researchers have found.  Academics at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute analysed the political affiliations and posting patterns of almost 48,000 public Facebook pages and 14,000 Twitter users to identify which groups posted the most misinformation from dubious websites. The analysis, one of the most extensive studies to date of fake news on social media, is likely to increase the pressure on tech companies to tackle misinformation online, particularly because of its focus on the scope of false information. The researchers found that groups on both extremes of the political spectrum consumed and shared the most junk news in a period between October 2017 and January this year. However, ultra-rightwing “hard conservatives” shared the most misinformation while accounts that tweeted hashtags favouring Mr Trump dominated junk news posting on Twitter. “There is increasing evidence of a rise in polarisation in the US news landscape in response to the 2016 [presidential] election,” the researchers found.

The research, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that different ideological groups were deeply polarised. Trump supporters were the most isolated on Twitter, sharing fewest links to stories that were also mentioned by other groups. According to Lisa-Maria Neudert, one of the Oxford researchers, the inaccurate stories shared before Mr Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30 included an article that said flu vaccines were “the greatest medical fraud in the history of the world”. Another claimed the EU was underpinned by “Luciferian” ideology. The study also looked at whether the groups shared articles that fell into at least three out of five “junk” categories, including failing to provide real information about authors, mimicking real news organisations or sharing exaggeratedly partisan views. Social media companies have long argued that their businesses rely on users being able to share stories without censorship. However, this idea has come under question since it was revealed that a Russian troll farm reached nearly 150m Facebook users ahead of the presidential election in 2016.

Read the full article here.

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