It is not exactly a secret that extreme and less than precise content finds large audiences on Facebook. In previous months last year’s election, the site’s list of the most engaged pages was almost always dominated by far-right figures like Dan Bongino and Dinesh D’Souza, who are not known for their loyalty to factual journalism. An anonymous Facebook executive Told Politico last September, “right-wing populism is always more engaging.” However, new research published today appears to be the first to empirically show that the relationship between precision and engagement varies considerably depending on the alignment of the source on the partisan spectrum.
According to researchers at New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy Project, far-right providers of disinformation have by far the highest levels of engagement per subscriber compared to any other category of news source. Indeed, the researchers found that while left-wing and centrist publications get much less engagement if they publish disinformation, the relationship is reversed on the far right, where news agencies that regularly publish false documents get. up to 65% more engagement than those who don’t. The study provides perhaps the most substantial evidence to date on what types of news – and fake news – work best according to this metric on Facebook.
“What we are seeing is that among the far right in particular, disinformation is more engaging than non-disinformation,” said Laura Edelson, doctoral student and senior researcher. “I think this is something a lot of people thought to be the case, but now we can really quantify it, we can specifically identify that it is really true on the far right, but not true in the center or on the left. . “
The analysis is an extract from an academic working paper. The team examined 2,973 Facebook pages from US news sources whose partisanship and accuracy had been analyzed by two independent organizations, NewsGuard and Media Bias / Fact Check. This allowed the team to categorize each source both by ideological positioning – far right, slightly right, center, slightly left, extreme left – and whether or not it had been flagged for regularly posting bogus content. . Of course, those rankings are inaccurate science, but Edelson said the two databases were generally consistent with each other and with his own spot checks of individual news sources.
Then, using CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool that analyzes activity on the platform, Edelson and his team uploaded every public post from each of the news agencies’ Facebook and Instagram pages for a period of five. months between August and January, showing how many likes, comments, or other interactions accumulated on each page. This allowed them to categorize each post by engagement by subscriber. Finally, they plotted this engagement score against each post category.
The results have been striking. In the far left, slightly left, and central categories, posts deemed credible by NewsGuard and MBFC saw between two and five times more engagement than those that weren’t. (Fake news published by centrist organizations, the study notes, tends to be of the medical quackery type.) In the slightly right-wing category, specific sources had only a small advantage. It’s in the far-right category where things get weird: Sources designated as providers of disinformation saw 426 interactions per thousand subscribers in an average week, compared to just 259 for far-right sources without the label of. disinformation. These two engagement numbers eclipse any other category; the second highest is “far left, not misinformation,” with only about 145 interactions per thousand subscribers per week.