Evaluating the Fake News Problem at the Scale of the Information Ecosystem

48 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2019

See all articles by Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Baird Howland

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Markus M. Mobius

Microsoft Corporation - Microsoft Research New England; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

David M. Rothschild

Microsoft Research

Duncan Watts

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: December 11, 2019

Abstract

“Fake news,” broadly defined as deliberately false or misleading information masquerading as legitimate news, is frequently asserted to be pervasive on the web, and on social media in particular, with serious consequences for public opinion, political polarization, and ultimately democracy. Using a unique multimode data set that comprises a nationally representative sample of mobile, desktop, and television consumption across all categories of media content, we refute this conventional wisdom on three levels. First, news consumption of any sort is heavily outweighed by other forms of media consumption, comprising at most 14.2% of Americans’ daily media diets. Second, to the extent that Americans do consume news, it is overwhelmingly from television, which accounts for roughly five times as much as news consumption as online, while a supermajority of Americans consume little or no news online at all. Third, fake news comprises only about 1% of overall news consumption and 0.15% of Americans’ daily media diet. Although consumption data alone cannot determine that online misinformation in any dose is not dangerous to democracy, our results suggest that the origins of public mis-informedness and polarization are more likely to lie in the content of ordinary news--especially on television--or alternatively in the avoidance of news altogether as they are in overt fakery.

Keywords: news, media, misinformation, fake news, television, online, social media

Suggested Citation

Allen, Jennifer and Howland, Baird and Mobius, Markus M. and Mobius, Markus M. and Rothschild, David M. and Watts, Duncan, Evaluating the Fake News Problem at the Scale of the Information Ecosystem (December 11, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3502581 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3502581

Jennifer Allen

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Baird Howland

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Markus M. Mobius

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information ( email )

304 West Hall
550 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.markusmobius.org

Microsoft Corporation - Microsoft Research New England ( email )

One Memorial Drive, 12th Floor
Office 12062
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.markusmobius.org

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.markusmobius.org

David M. Rothschild (Contact Author)

Microsoft Research ( email )

New York City, NY NY 10011
United States

Duncan Watts

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States
2155733240 (Phone)
19104-6228 (Fax)

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