Study reveals the biggest origin of fake news remains ‘age’ and not political affiliation

Study reveals the biggest origin of fake news remains ‘age’ and not political affiliation


WASHINGTON: A new study analyzing users’ Facebook posts during the 2016 election season identified the age group sharing many of those fake stories is people over 65.

Facebook users aged 65 plus and conservatives are more likely to share fake news on the platform than younger or more liberal counterparts, according to a new study.

Researchers from Princeton University and New York University analysed the Facebook posts of nearly 1,200 people who agreed to share their data in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election. They then compared links the respondents had shared on Facebook with several lists — including one compiled by BuzzFeed — of websites known to share false information.

The biggest predictor of whether someone will share fake news isn’t their political affiliation — it’s their age.

Conservatives were more likely to share stories from fake news domains, the study said, with a pro-Donald Trump orientation in 2016. Still, it found that even controlling for the effect of ideology, partisanship, education and the number of web links shared, older folks were more likely to share fake news than younger people.

So why people over 65? One possible reason is that they lack the digital media literacy skills to determine trustworthiness online, the authors suggested. They say that more research is needed to understand the interaction between age and online political content. The authors also suggested the issue may be related to aging’s effect on memory.

The study, published in Science Advances, found less than only 8.5 per cent of respondents shared a link from one of these websites. However, those that did tended to be older and self-identified as being on the conservative end of the political spectrum. In fact, users over 65 — regardless of political affiliations — shared “nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains” as 18 to 29-year-olds, the youngest age group studied.

“No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news,” the authors reported. “It is possible that an entire cohort of Americans, now in their 60s and beyond, lacks the level of digital media literacy necessary to reliably determine the trustworthiness of news encountered online,” they suggested.

The study relied on users’ Facebook sharing history instead of asking them to self-report that history. Using online polling firm YouGov, it asked respondents to provide access to parts of their Facebook profiles, including timeline posts and external links.

The authors also suggested the impact of aging on memory could have an effect. “Under this account, memory deteriorates with age in a way that particularly undermines resistance to ‘illusions of truth’,” they wrote.

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