Who shares fake news?

Following the 2016 US presidential campaign, studies have found that conservatives were more likely to share articles from fake-news domains than were moderates or liberals.

But in a new study of misinformation-sharing on social media during the 2016 campaign, published in Science Advances on Wednesday, researchers say that political leaning doesn’t correlate nearly so strongly with fake-news sharing as does age.

Specifically, it’s old people who are sharing the most fake news.

Researchers at New York and Princeton Universities found that users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as did those in the youngest age group (18-29). The tendency to share fake news steadily increases with age: Facebook users over 65 shared about 2.3 times as many such articles as those in the second-oldest age group (45-65).

Age, in fact, is the best predictor of how Facebook users’ interact with fake news, above and beyond sex, race, income, education, or how many links they share, the researchers found.

Sharing fake news is actually quite rare

One silver lining: sharing fake news was “quite rare” during the 2016 campaign, the researchers found:

The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all.

This isn’t because survey respondents didn’t share links in general; it’s just that they overwhelmingly chose not to specifically share fake news. Of their respondents, 3.4% of those who opened up their Facebook profile data to the researchers shared 10 or fewer links of any kind during the period of data collection. Far more – 26.1% – shared 10 to 100 links, and even more  – 61.3% – shared 100 to 1000 links.

From the report:

Sharing of stories from fake news domains is a much rarer event than sharing links overall.

Across all ages, only 8.5% of study participants shared at least one link from a fake news site.

Their findings did echo those of earlier studies (such as this one) in that conservative respondents were more likely to share articles from fake news-spreading domains.

They found that of those users who identified themselves as being Republicans, 18.1% shared fake news, compared with 3.5% of Democrats. The researchers attributed the finding largely to studies that have shown that fake news overwhelmingly served to promote Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 election.

But again, regardless of political leanings, such sharing increases with age, the researchers found.