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Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election

Listed author(s):
  • Hunt Allcott
  • Matthew Gentzkow

We present new evidence on the role of false stories circulated on social media prior to the 2016 US presidential election. Drawing on audience data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: (i) social media was an important but not dominant source of news in the run-up to the election, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their “most important” source of election news; (ii) 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 eight million times; (iii) the average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them; (iv) for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23089.

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Date of creation: Jan 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23089
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  1. Ruben Enikolopov & Maria Petrova & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2010. "Media and Political Persuasion: Evidence from Russia," Working Papers w0149, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
  2. Gordon, Brett R. & Hartmann, Wesley R., 2011. "Advertising Effects in Presidential Elections," Research Papers 2080, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  3. Jörg L. Spenkuch & David Toniatti, 2016. "Political Advertising and Election Outcomes," CESifo Working Paper Series 5780, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Stefano DellaVigna & Ethan Kaplan, 2007. "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1187-1234.
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  7. 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.
  8. Hainmueller, Jens, 2012. "Entropy Balancing for Causal Effects: A Multivariate Reweighting Method to Produce Balanced Samples in Observational Studies," Political Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 20(01), pages 25-46, December.
  9. Guess, Andrew M., 2015. "Measure for Measure: An Experimental Test of Online Political Media Exposure," Political Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(01), pages 59-75, December.
  10. Martin, Gregory J. & Yurukoglu, Ali, 2016. "Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization," Research Papers 3343, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  11. Bullock, John G. & Gerber, Alan S. & Hill, Seth J. & Huber, Gregory A., 2015. "Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 10(4), pages 519-578, December.
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