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Big Data: Who fell for the hoax stories on Facebook during the 2016 election?

Facebook. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

11 percent — That’s the proportion of American Facebook users over age 65 who shared hoax stories during the 2016 election season — far more than the 3 percent of adults under 29 who fell for such fake news. As the website The Verge reported, researchers at Princeton and New York University asked study participants for permission to track what they shared on the leading social-media platform. While conservatives shared more fake news than liberals — perhaps because there were more pro-Trump hoax stories being posted in the first place — partisan identification wasn’t the biggest factor. Age was. “No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more notable,” Princeton’s Andrew Guess and his colleagues wrote in a paper in the journal Science Advances.

Efforts to promote news literacy often focus on younger readers. Guess’s team did not seek to explain why older people might be more susceptible to false claims. But, in the wake of the study, there’s been speculation that younger adults, who grew up consuming information from websites that vary greatly in quality, bring a more instinctive skepticism to what they read. For most of older Americans’ lives, in contrast, people who relied on traditional newspapers, magazines, and TV news shows for their information would seldom even see factual claims whose veracity hadn’t been vetted by somebody — much less be able to share them with hundreds of their friends at the click of a button.

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