Los Angeles: The most widely circulated fabricated stories favouring Donald Trump were seen only by a small fraction of Americans, according to a new study which claims that ‘fake news’ is unlikely to have influenced the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections.
In the three months before the election, pro-Trump fabricated stories tracked by the researchers were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Clinton shares.
Even so, researchers found that the most widely circulated hoaxes were seen by only a small fraction of Americans, with only about half of those who saw a false news story believing it.
Matthew Gentzkow, economist at Stanford University along with Hunt Allcott of New York University in the US said that social media played a much smaller role in the election than thought.
Out of all the heated debates surrounding the 2016 presidential race, the controversy over ‘fake news’ and its potential impact on Trump’s victory has been among the most fierce.
Now, there is concrete data proposing that false news stories may not have been as persuasive and influential as is often suggested.
However, economists behind the research do not conclude one way or the other whether fake news swayed the election.
“A reader of our study could very reasonably say, based on our set of facts, that it is unlikely that fake news swayed the election,” said Gentzkow.
“However that conclusion ultimately depends on what readers think is a reasonable benchmark for the persuasiveness of an individual fake news story,” he said.
Trump’s victory has been dogged by claims that false news stories – including reports that his rival Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS and the pope had endorsed Trump – altered the outcome.
Facebook and other social media sites have also come under attack for allowing fabricated news stories to circulate unchecked on their platforms.
In the study, researchers analysed three sets of data.
The first tracked the amount of traffic on news websites that was directed by social media. The second examined the top fake news stories identified by BuzzFeed and two prominent fact-checking sites, Snopes and PolitiFact.
The third consisted of the researcher’s own post-election online survey of 1,200 voters.
They show that social media was not the major source of political news for most Americans in 2016; only 14 per cent said that they relied on Facebook and other social media sites as their most important source of election coverage.
“Social media was an important but not dominant source of news in the run-up to the election,” researchers said.
Television remains the go-to place for political news, researchers said.