Would you know fake news if you saw it? How often have you come across fake news during your time on social media? I’m betting more than once. Believe it or not, in the past few years, platforms created algorithms to reduce the amount of fake news flooding your stream. But how well has that worked?

Hunt Allcott and others found specific trends in the diffusion of misinformation in social media. They gathered thousands of pieces of content and stories from over 100 fake news websites and their level of engagement with Facebook and Twitter and reviewed the trends of their diffusion from 2015 to 2018. Using various web trafficking methods such as BuzzSumo and Alexa, they reviewed the volume of user interactions and recorded browsing data. Yeah, they can do that.

Allcott’s research also measured the outcomes for not only major sites, but small business and culture sites, and small news sites not identified as producing misinformation (Allcott, 2019). But those sites followed a stable trend in comparison to Facebook. Even so, some of the fake news sites also contain true news and clickbait to misleading content. Because of that reason, the researchers also compiled a list from that fact checked the content they deemed false. That gave them still a whopping 9,540 false stories! Later described in the article, the data could be misconstrued because of the sites these programs don’t account for.

The amount of misinformation leading up to the 2016 election is alarming and fake news on social media is argued to play a major role in the results. Because of the increased volume of fake news, Facebook and other platforms created an algorithm to flag false content in order to prevent the spread of misinformation and improve its quality. The amount of decline within the past 2 years has suggested that Facebook’s algorithm may have something to do with it (Allcott, 2019). But, it’s nearly impossible to control the amount of misinformation people put out into the world.

The results suggest that since the end of 2016, Facebook has had a decline in fake news since its peak while Twitter is still rising (Allcott, 2019). This change in the continuous rise after the election could have something to do with the President’s recent engagements on Twitter. The results from Facebook show relationship to major news and fake news sites engagement through the same periods of time. While Twitter engagements are on a continuous rise through the entire study due to the president’s active account and rising millenial use.

This study seeks out to share the importance of knowing the decline is visible but the amount of misinformation still being consumed by viewers is large and alarming (Allcott, 2019). That’s mainly referring to Twitter and Facebook. Though Facebook’s fake news has declined from 160 million to 60 million engagements per month, the number is still high. And that’s just from one social media platform! Imagine the generations who get their news from major news sites that also carry false content not in this study. That just adds to the number of people exposed to things that can persuade one’s decisions.

As communicators in the IMC world, it is our job to persuade and influence, however, in an ethical and approachable manner. Seeing this research has only solidified the fact that people are aware of the content put on social media. What is said online is shared and impacts society more than it seems. Allcott (2019) concludes that the diffusion of misinformation through social media is a potential threat to democracy and broader society. As a young generation of communication students, it is our responsibility to create content that is honest and thought-provoking in an ethical way.

We remember the social media chaos that surrounded the 2016 Trump election but it makes you wonder about the effect a continuous amount of misinformation would have on a society and future elections. The research suggests there was a decline, however, there is still a problem. We, as marketers, need to keep in mind ethical values and the content we create and post- whether it be personal or business related. The fact is, on the internet, the information you share will be seen by someone out there, so don’t be fake, be real.

Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M., & Yu, C. (2019). Trends in the diffusion of misinformation on

social media. Research & Politics, 6(2), 205316801984855. doi: 10.1177/2053168019848554

-Annie Cline

Annie is happy to bring her creative writing skills into her studies with IMC. She has a passion for communication and cannot wait for graduation to put her skills into action in the real world.