Study finds Trump supporters and extreme far-right conservatives share the most ‘junk’ news on social media

Research by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), at the University of Oxford in the UK, reveals that the widest range of ‘junk news’ shared on Twitter is done so by Trump supporters (55%), while the widest range of ‘junk news’ shared on Facebook is done so by extreme far-right conservatives (58%), a group separate from Republicans[1]. The results came after the OII analysed the social media activity of US Twitter and Facebook users from November 2017 to January 2018, the period leading up to the State of the Union Address[2]. A wider range of known junk news is shared on Twitter than it is on Facebook[3].

Junk news sources are those which deliberately publish “misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture”[4]. While some of this material can be obviously extremist or sensationalist, its ‘junk’ nature may also be masked[5]. Interestingly, the study did not find evidence of significant amounts of Russian news sources being shared[6].

Professor Phil Howard, the director of the Computational Propaganda Project, commented on what he called the “upside” to these results, saying “[i]t appears that only one part of the political spectrum – the far right – is really the target for extremist, sensational and conspiratorial content. Over social media, moderates and centrists tend not to be as susceptible”[7].

The findings also speak to the polarisation that exists in US politics, as the Democrats and the Republicans “prefer different sources of news, with limited overlap”[8].

Left-wing outlet, The Daily Banter, discusses how those who run the outlets which produce this ‘junk news’ deliberately distort the truth in order to uphold the “radical” Trump administration and gain power for themselves[9].

Right-wing outlet, Fox, has also picked up on the results of the study, calling it “fake news” that “proves nothing other than finding conservatives tend to share conservative media online”[10]. Along these lines, an article on Salon comments that perhaps identifying ‘junk’ news as such does more harm than good when the demographics who are identified as sharing it are often also “the most vocal critics of mainstream media and information they perceive as deceptive or untruthful”[11]. However, the attitude of these right-wing organisations also means that dialogue with them about ‘facts’ in the news might prove to be futile, according to The Daily Banter[12].

[1] University of Oxford, 2018; see also Narayanan et al., 2018.

[2] University of Oxford, 2018.

[3] University of Oxford, 2018.

[4] University of Oxford, 2018.

[5] University of Oxford, 2018.

[6] Hern, 2018.

[7] University of Oxford, 2018.

[8] Hern, 2018.

[9] Cohen, 2018.

[10] Harrington, 2018.

[11] May, 2018.

[12] Cohen, 2018.

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Cohen, B. (2018) ‘Terrifying British Study Shows Trump Supporters Are Now Basically Unreachable’. [online] 7 February. [Accessed 19 February 2018].

Harrington, E. (2018) ‘Oxford study saying Trump supporters share more fake news is fake news’. [online] 9 February. [Accessed 19 February 2018].

Hern, A. (2018) ‘Fake news sharing in US is a rightwing thing, says study’. [online] 6 February. [Accessed 19 February 2018].

May, C. (2018) ‘Trump supporters share the most “junk” news, conspiracy theories: study’. [online] 7 February 2018. [Accessed 19 February 2018].

Narayanan, V., et al. (2018) ‘Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption over Social Media in the US’. [online] 6 February. [Accessed 19 February 2018].

University of Oxford. (2018) ‘Trump supporters and extreme right ‘share widest range of junk news’. [online] 6 February. [Accessed 19 February 2018].