Trump supporters and extreme conservatives consume and share more “junk news” on social media than every other political group combined, a University of Oxford study has found.
The three-month study, published Tuesday as part of the school’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, scrutinized the habits of 13,477 politically active U.S. Twitter users and 47,719 public Facebook pages in the months leading up to the State of the Union address late last month.
The authors then mapped how links to junk news sources flowed through the social media networks. Based on the links users shared and other factors, researchers separated them into distinct (yet often overlapping) cohorts, which they labeled “Hard Conservative,” “Women’s Rights,” “Conspiracy,” “Libertarian,” “Trump Support,” “Democratic Party,” etc.
The study linked a full 55 percent of all junk news traffic on Twitter to the “Trump Support” group. “On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together,” the authors noted.
For comparison, the “Democratic Party” and “Progressive Movement” groups together accounted for 1 percent of junk news traffic on Twitter, according to the study.
And on Facebook, the study found that “extreme hard right pages—distinct from Republican pages—share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together.” The “Hard Conservative” group accounted for 58 percent of junk news traffic on Facebook. (The “Democratic Party” group accounted for 12 percent.)
As one would suspect, given our increasingly polarized political environment, the researchers found that Democrats and Republicans have “limited overlap” in their preferred outlets for political news.
For the purposes of the study, researchers defined “junk news sources” as those that didn’t abide by basic journalistic practices and that “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news.”
The researchers compiled a list of 91 such sources ― click here for their methodology and the full list ― via a multiyear monitoring effort, winnowing it down to those that push “propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiratorial news and information.”