A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that ideologically extremeFacebook users share more fake news and countermedia posts than their Twitter counterparts and those who identified as politically moderate..
The study, published in the journal Human Communication Research, examined the Facebook and Twitter posts of 783 Facebook and Twitter users between Aug. 1, 2015 and June 6, 2017. Researchers determined the political leanings of each user and determined whether they shared anything from 106 fake news or “countermedia” websites.
The authors of the study said they opted to use the term countermedia as opposed to fake news because while fake news from conspiracy-driven websites such as InfoWars can be easily spotted and disregarded, countermedia sites like Breitbart News are far more deceptive.
“The vast majority of people can recognize… obvious fake news, things that can just be looked up and completely disregarded as bogus,” co-author and CU associate journalism professor Pat Ferrucci said. “Countermedia is a little different.”
What people often call fake news is often at least partly true but heavily biased, CU advertising, public relations and media design assistant professor Toby Hopp said..
“It omits important details, it presents things in a very partisan way (and) it’s information that’s designed to elicit certain, in most cases, a negative emotional response for political or in some cases personal gain,” Hopp said.
The study found that 95% of Twitter users shared no countermedia, compared to just 71% of Facebook users. Hopp attributed the greater prevalence of countermedia on Facebook to several things: more Americans have Facebook than Twitter, Facebook tends to be used by older people who share more countermedia than younger people, and Facebook usage centers largely around political and personal identity formation.
“One of the ways that we manage those identities is by passing along information that we think is important for other people to see, that we think (tells) the story about ourselves that also (tells) the story about the other side,” Hopp said.
Users identified themselves on a scale from 1 to 7, 1 being extremely liberal and 7 beingextremely conservative. According to the study, 26% of countermedia shared on Facebook and 32% of countermedia shared on Twitter came from those who scored a 7, while 17.5% of countermedia shared on Facebook and 16.4% of countermedia shared on Twitter came from those who scored a 1.
Ferrucci said that the sharing of countermedia has little to do with media literacy.
“When we call (those who share countermedia media) media illiterate we’re making excuses for people and we’re making it sound like people are stupid and they’re just being fooled. I don’t believe it’s as simple as that,” Ferrucci said. “They’re ideologically extreme, and what that means is they gravitate towards like-minded organizations. So it’s not that they’re media illiterate. What it is, is that they’re only getting information from places they trust and that creates an echochamber that shapes their world view.”
Websites such as Twitter have been taking strides to fact check social media posts, which Hopp said “has a relatively small effect, albeit a positive effect.”
Ferrucci said that this effort, while a good start, ultimately doesn’t change the minds of those who don’t trust traditional media to begin with.
“The way to really fix this stuff is for companies to actually do what’s right, and what’s right is if they’re just not going to let this information go out and be disseminated widely,” Ferrucci said.
Hopp emphasized that “we don’t have any real… hard-and-fast factual evidence that this stuff really swings elections or materially influences the way that people vote.”
“Over the next couple of years we’ll see more about what kinds of real material effects that this sort of information takes.”