You may have heard about Oxford’s recent study about an apparent link between fake news and conservatives in the United States. The University of Oxford conducted a study indicating that Trump supporters share more “fake news” on social media at a rate higher than all other political groups put together. When Oxford published the results, they even published a press release that boldly claimed, “Trump supporters and extreme right ‘share widest range of junk news.'”
However, counter evidence has shown that this study pinning the blame for fake news on Trump supporters may, in fact, be fake news.
Revisiting the Study
The University of Oxford conducted the study for three months and recently published their findings as a part of the university’s Computational Propaganda Research Project. This project focused on studying and analyzing the habits of 13,477 Twitter users in the United States as well as 47,719 public Facebook pages.
The Twitter users studied were considered “politically active.” The behavior of these users and pages were analyzed for a few months until the State of the Union address in January.
The researchers then mapped how the links to fake news sources flowed throughout Twitter and Facebook. The researchers separated the users into different cohorts, such as “Hard Conservative,” “Trump Supporter,” “Conspiracy,” “Women’s Rights,” “Libertarian,” and “Democratic Party.” These cohorts were kept distinct. However, in reality, these cohorts often overlap with each other.
The researchers defined “fake news” or “junk news” as news that didn’t conform to the basic practices of journalism and purposely published deceptive, misleading, or incorrect information masquerading as real news.
The study found that 55 percent of all the fake news traffic could be traced back to users in the “Trump Supporter” cohort. The researchers concluded that Trump supporters are responsible for sharing the most fake news and circulating the widest range of sources for fake news than all of the other cohorts combined.
In comparison, the “Progressive Movement” and the “Democratic Party” groups combined accounted for just 1 percent of all fake new traffic on social media.
The study found that “extreme hard right pages” on Facebook are responsible for sharing the most fake news and junk news sources than all of the other types of pages combined. The researchers considered an “extreme hard right” page as separate from a Republican page. The “Hard Conservative’ group shared 58 percent of all fake news traffic on Facebook. On the other hand, the Democratic Party shared just 12 percent of all the fake news.
The researchers concluded that, overall, the Democrats and Republicans have very “limited” overlap when it comes to the outlets that they prefer for political news. This is to be expected, due to how the political environment is becoming increasingly polarized day by day.
What Is Fake News, Really?
While the evidence found by these researchers at the University of Oxford may sound convincing, one only needs to take a brief look at the methodology of the researchers to reveal the holes in their claim.
To conduct the study, the researchers created a list of 91 sources of fake news. This took many years of monitoring and cutting the list down to just the news sources that push propaganda pretending to be news or ideologically extreme, conspiratorial, or hyper-partisan information or news. The researchers received over $200,000 in funding from taxpayers to compile this list of sources of fake news. However, this list of junk news sources actually just consists of many of the most popular websites on the Internets for conservatives.
Some of the “propaganda news outlets” on the list of the researchers include Drudge Report, the Daily Caller, the Washington Free Beacon, and the National Review. The Drudge Report, for example, is the seventh most popular media publication in the country in terms of the number of visits.
While this study claims to prove that conservatives hold all of the responsibility for sharing fake news, all this study shows is that conservatives share the most conservative media on the Internet. Ironically, these Oxford researchers are showing a greater tendency to share fake news than the conservatives they accuse of spreading junk news.
~ Conservative Zone