Supporters of President Trump and hard-right conservatives are far more likely to share unreliable news items via social media than any other political group in the U.S., according to a new study published as part of Oxford University’s “Computational Propaganda Research Project.”
Oxford’s researchers conducted analysis on more than 13,000 “politically active” Twitter users and nearly 48,000 Facebook pages in the three months leading up to Trump’s Jan. 30 State of the Union Address. Based on the data they sampled, social media users were separated into groups based on ideology; categories included “Democratic party,” “Republican Party,” “Progressive Movement,” “conspiracy,” “resistance,” “hard conservatives” and “Trump support.”
Researchers also separately identified more than 90 media sources providing content they described as “junk,” or online publishers that “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture.” Junk news sources included both right- and left-leaning sites such as Breitbart News, mediaite.com, newsmax.com, occupydemocrats.com and InfoWars.
Examining how that content was distributed across social media, Oxford’s study discovered that sharing “junk” political news is a practice uniquely concentrated among Trump supporters, with that group and “hard conservatives” on Facebook responsible for sharing more fake news stories than all other political groups combined.
In its sample of Twitter data, the study revealed that 55 percent of all junk news traffic came from users falling under the “Trump support” category. Trump supporters on Twitter were responsible for sharing 95 percent of the study's “junk” stories, with 96 percent of Trump supporters sharing a junk news link via Twitter in the days leading up to the State of the Union.
On Facebook, 91 percent of the “hard conservatives” group shared junk news — even topping members of the study’s “conspiracy” category — and accounted for 58 percent of all junk news traffic.
By contrast, the “Democratic Party” group on Facebook accounted for just 12 percent of junk news traffic on Facebook. Together, “Democratic Party” and “Progressive Movement” groups accounted for only one-percent of junk news traffic on Twitter, according to the study.
The study concluded that political polarization is both driving and could also be the result of social media news consumption patterns, as a “limited overlap” of news sources existed between the content shared by Democrats and Republicans online, with Democrats engaging primarily with mainstream media sources and Republicans interacting mostly with conservative media groups.