News Brief

More ‘Junk News’ Than Ever, Study Finds

The spread of “junk news” on Twitter and Facebook has grown significantly since the 2016 U.S. election, the Financial Times reports, despite the companies’ efforts to control disinformation that could influence next week’s midterms.

A new report from the Oxford Internet Institute found that the proportion of “junk news” about politics — what the researchers call deceptive, extremist and conspiratorial content — has increased by five percent since Donald Trump was elected president.

At least 25 percent of all links shared on Twitter now lead to sites the researchers identified as junk, up from 20 per cent two years ago — though researchers did not measure how many people these posts had reached.

The study said a large number of the Twitter accounts linked to the spread of misinformation during the 2016 US elections were still actively spreading junk news. On Facebook, the audience for junk news had spread beyond supporters of President Trump and the far-right to include mainstream conservative readers, the study found.

There was also now a small but increasing population on the far-left consuming junk news on Facebook, for example, spreading misinformation about Trump administration policies towards the LGBTQ community.

Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, said more of the problematic content appeared to originate from the US, rather than the disinformation campaigns conducted by Russia and other foreign powers. “So much of this junk news is actually homegrown, it is not from the crazy Venezuelan government, it is not coming from Iran, it is from the US: massive networks of junk news, multiple sites, sharing the same kind of content: radical, extremist, sensationalist,” he said.