Fake news: what it is, and how it can influence politics

Sep 30, 2020, 1:40 PM | Updated: 1:42 pm
fact from fiction...
Fake news, otherwise known as stories based on false information, have the potential to influence politics, researchers say. (Image credit: Getty images)
(Image credit: Getty images)

Does fake news, also known as stories based on false information, influence voters? 

Although its effect may be small, one study concluded fake news did influence the outcome of the very close 2016 presidential election. 

The Ohio State University study suggests that about 4% of President Barack Obama’s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by belief in stories based on false information.

According to Facebook in prepared Senate testimony, 126 million Americans were shown Russian-backed, politically-oriented false stories via the social media platform during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

Not every Facebook user exposed to the fake news articles read the stories of course. But if only a fraction did and were influenced by them, it could have changed the outcome of a very close race, as the study above suggests.

Fake news outdraws real

Also, leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the 20 most popular false stories got more shares, reactions and comments (8.7 million engagements) than the most popular 20 real news stories (7.3 million engagements), according to NPR.

Social media drives more users to fake news sites than real ones.  More than 40% of visits to 65 fake news sites come from social media when compared to about 10% of visits to 690 top US news sites, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

More than one-quarter of voting-age adults visited a fake news website supporting either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, according to research by Princeton’s Andrew Guess, Dartmouth University’s Brendan Nyhan and the University of Exeter’s Jason Reifler. 

“There is a vast menagerie of misinformation. It’s particularly insidious because it undermines the legitimacy of the mainstream news,” said David Lazer, who studies the internet’s influence on citizens and their elected officials.

“[Social media] amplifies what would really be a fringe message, and makes it mainstream when it’s not,” said David Broniatowski, whose research examines how people make decisions that involve risk.

Different audiences see stories differently

Conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe things that aren’t true when the possible consequences are negative or suggest possible danger, according to research conducted by a team from UCLA in 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The study also found conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to share fake news articles.

However, age plays a role as well. Researchers found that fewer than 10% of Americans shared a story from a fake news domain, and those who did were more likely to be older than 65. Senior citizens shared phony articles on Facebook at a rate seven times higher than that of young adults between 18 and 29, according to a study published in January 2019 in the journal Science Advances.

According to an academic study cited in The Conversation:

Though our evidence does not “prove” that belief in fake news “caused” these former Obama voters to defect from the Democratic candidate in 2016, our study results suggest that it is highly likely that the pernicious pollution of our political discourse by fake news was sufficient to influence the outcome of what was a very close election.

Today’s Top Stories

Your Voice, Your Vote

ballot count amendments utah...
Lindsay Aerts

County clerks report more poll watchers, scrutiny ahead of Utah primary

Ahead of the 2022 Utah Primary election, clerks Salt Lake and Utah counties are reporting more poll watchers are serving as watchdogs.
13 days ago
Utahns could get a tax cut....

Utah Senate passes a tax cut for Utahns, Gov. Cox says he will sign it

The Utah Senate just unanimously passed a bill, giving Utahns a big tax cut. People in the state could see $193 million back in taxes.
5 months ago
utah poll unfavorable to president biden...
Mary Richards

New poll shows low favorability in Utah for President Biden

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 45% of Utah residents have a favorable opinion of President Joe Biden, while 3% aren’t sure.
1 year ago
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read the final certifica...

Biden win confirmed after violent pro-Trump protestors storms US Capitol

Congress has confirmed Democrat Joe Biden as the presidential election winner, hours after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
1 year ago
president trump trial...
ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN Associated Press

Trump says his term is ending, transition will be orderly

President Donald Trump says there will be an “orderly transition on January 20th” now that Congress has concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
1 year ago
(Some of the flags and signs outside the Utah State Capitol.  Credit: Paul Nelson)...
Paul Nelson

Hundreds participate in “Stop The Steal” rally at Utah State Capitol

Hundreds of President Trump’s supporters in Utah gather on the Capitol grounds to protest what they call the stealing of the presidential election. 
1 year ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Fake news: what it is, and how it can influence politics