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The Real Scoop on Fake News

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By: Allysia Finley – wsj.com – January 7, 2018

It turns out the people likeliest to read false stories are the ones who read lots of hard news too.

This just in—“fake news” didn’t elect Donald Trump. Democrats have argued that Trump voters were duped by fringe websites that traffic in misinformation, and that if those voters were better informed, Hillary Clinton would be president today. A new study by three political scientists—from Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Exeter—debunks the theory. While fake news is a real problem, the most dangerous distortions are shrouded in a patina of credibility.

The researchers collected tracking data from computers of 2,525 Americans (with their consent) between Oct. 7 and Nov. 14, 2016, and analyzed their news consumption vis-à-vis their political support and knowledge. They sorted “fake” from “hard” news sites, defining the former by the propensity to publish intentionally fabricated stories such as “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide”—but not unintentional reporting mistakes, false statements by politicians or slanted or misleading reports that were not categorically false.

The researchers extrapolated that roughly 1 in 4 American adults visited a fake-news site around the time of the election. But stories on these sites accounted for only about 2.6% of all the news they consumed.

Trump supporters were likelier than Clinton backers to visit fake-news sites, and the most ardent conservatives were the most voracious consumers. The 10% of Americans with the most conservative online information diets accounted for 60% of visits to fake news websites. That would seem to support the theory that Trump partisans consumed fake news to reinforce their political attitudes.

But the study also finds that “fake news consumption seems to be a complement to, rather than a substitute for, hard news—visits to fake news websites are highest among people who consume the most hard news.” The more time you spend perusing news online or using social media, the more likely you’ll stumble upon and click on provocative, misleading headlines. But reading information from a variety of sources ought to provide some inoculation against fabricated stories.

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Source: Scholars Get The Real Scoop on ‘Fake News’ – WSJ