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Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election

Author

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  • Hunt Allcott
  • Matthew Gentzkow

Abstract

Following the 2016 US presidential election, many have expressed concern about the effects of false stories ("fake news"), circulated largely through social media. We discuss the economics of fake news and present new data on its consumption prior to the election. Drawing on web browsing data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: 1) social media was an important but not dominant source of election news, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their "most important" source; 2) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared 8 million times; 3) the average American adult saw on the order of one or perhaps several fake news stories in the months around the election, with just over half of those who recalled seeing them believing them; and 4) people are much more likely to believe stories that favor their preferred candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social media networks.

Suggested Citation

  • Hunt Allcott & Matthew Gentzkow, 2017. "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(2), pages 211-236, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:2:p:211-36
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.2.211
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ariel Malka & Jon A. Krosnick & Gary Langer, 2009. "The Association of Knowledge with Concern About Global Warming: Trusted Information Sources Shape Public Thinking," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 29(5), pages 633-647, May.
    2. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro & Daniel F. Stone, 2014. "Media Bias in the Marketplace: Theory," NBER Working Papers 19880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Gerber, Alan S. & Gimpel, James G. & Green, Donald P. & Shaw, Daron R., 2011. "How Large and Long-lasting Are the Persuasive Effects of Televised Campaign Ads? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 135-150, February.
    4. Gregory A. Huber & Kevin Arceneaux, 2007. "Identifying the Persuasive Effects of Presidential Advertising," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 51(4), pages 957-977, October.
    5. Prior, Markus & Sood, Gaurav & Khanna, Kabir, 2015. "You Cannot be Serious: The Impact of Accuracy Incentives on Partisan Bias in Reports of Economic Perceptions," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 10(4), pages 489-518, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • L82 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Entertainment; Media
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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