How do over 65s behave on Facebook? According to a recent study, it is the users who most frequently share fake news. That's why
The role of fake news in influencing voter behavior has been discussed continuously since Donald Trump's surprising victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
At least one study pointed out that the pro-Trump fake news probably convinced several people to vote for him instead of Clinton, influencing the election result. Another study found that relatively few people clicked on false news links, but that their titles probably traveled far beyond the News Feed, making it difficult to quantify their true scope. The discovery that those over 65 are more likely to share false news could help users and social media platforms to design more effective interventions to prevent them from being misled.
How do Over 65 behave on Facebook? I study
Today's study, published in Science Advances, examined user behavior in the months before and after the 2016 US presidential election. In early 2016, academics began collaborating with research company YouGov to bring together a panel of 3,500 people, which included both Facebook users and non-users. On November 16, immediately after the elections, they asked Facebook users on the panel to install an application that would allow them to share data, including public profile fields, religious and political points of view, posts in their timelines and pages that followed. Users could choose whether or not to share individual data categories and the researchers had no access to news feeds or data on their friends.
About 49% of the study participants who used Facebook agreed to share their profile data. The researchers then checked the links published in the respective timelines with a list of web domains that historically shared false news, as compiled by reporter BuzzFeed Craig Silverman. Later, they checked the links with four other lists of news and fake domains to see if the results would be consistent.
In all age categories, sharing false information appeared a relatively rare category. Only 8.5% of users participating in the study shared at least one link from a known fake news site. Users who identified themselves as conservatives were more likely than users identified as liberals to share false news: 18% of Republicans shared links to false news sites, compared to less than 4% of Democrats. The researchers attributed this finding largely to studies showing that in 2016, false news served overwhelmingly to promote Trump's candidacy.
Over 65 on Facebook: more than 1 in 10 shares hoaxes
But older users have distorted the results: 11% of users over 65 have shared at least one hoax, while this value drops to 3% among users between 18 and 29. Facebook users aged 65 and over shared more than twice as many news articles than the younger age group between 45 and 65, and almost seven times as many fake news articles as the age group young again (from 18 to 29 years).
When we discover the age, many people say oh yes, this is obvious – said co-author Andrew Guess, a Princeton University political scientist – for me, what is rather surprising that the report holds up even when the affiliation to occurs, or party ideology. The fact that it is independent of these other traits is rather surprising.
Over 65s share more fake news: possible explanations
The study did not draw a conclusion about why users over 65 on Facebook are more likely to share hoaxes, even if the researchers indicate two possible theories: the first is that the elderly, who have approached the internet later, are missing digital literacy skills of their younger counterparts; the second is that people experience cognitive decline as they age, thus becoming more victims than fake news.
Regardless of age, the digital literacy gap was in the past designated as the cause of users' propensity to share online hoaxes. Last year, WhatsApp began developing a program to promote digital literacy in India, where many of its 200 million users are relatively new on the Internet, after a series of murders that may have been caused by viral forwarding via app. This program aimed at users of all ages.
At the same time, older Americans are prone to falling so much into scams that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has a page dedicated to them. It seems likely that a multi-pronged approach aimed at reducing the spread of false news will be more effective than trying to solve only one variable.
The next steps of the research
Guess and his colleagues hope to test both hypotheses in the future. It will not be easy to figure out how to determine whether a person is digitally literate or not, but at least part of the problem that is likely to come from design: false news spreads quickly on Facebook, partly because news articles generally appear identical to real news, whether published by the New York Times or a clickbait factory.
Research in the future could decipher what people see in the news and if there is a relationship between viewing false news and sharing it. Lipothesis that users might be more likely to share fake stories if they were previously shared by a trusted friend.
Matthew Gentzkow, who studied Facebook's efforts to slow down the spread of false news, said the findings of the new study on the behavior of over 65s on Facebook could help technology platforms design more effective tools.
The result of the age in this document is very directly aimed at narrowing down the set of solutions that could be most effective – said Gentzkow, a researcher at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research – if the problem is concentrated in a relatively small group of people, then thinking about the interventions that would be most effective for such people will take us much further.