It looks like Facebook’s actions to stop the spread of fake news might actually be working.
A new study titled “Trends in the Diffusion of Misinformation on Social Media” from researchers at Stanford University and New York University have discovered that Facebook engagement — shares, likes, and comments from users interacting with articles on the platform — dramatically dropped 50 percent between the 2016 election and July 2018.
Researchers Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow, and Chuan Yu used data from over 570 sites classified as fake news from sources such as Poltifact, FactCheck, and Buzzfeed. Using data compiled by BuzzSumo, a marketing analytics firm that tracks “user interactions with internet content on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms,” the researchers discovered that the Facebook engagement of all the sites combined sat at 70 million as of this July. That’s a huge drop from its height in 2016 when the sites had totaled 200 million monthly engagements.
The study also took into account that this might not just be relative to fake news content. Facebook is always making adjustments to it’s algorithm with effects that echo through the entire site. To make sure the falling Facebook engagement trend is unique to outlets peddling misinformation and not just a result of a platform-wide algorithm change, the study also looked at legitimate news, business, and culture websites. The results were encouraging. “We see no similar pattern for other news, business, or culture sites, where interactions have been relatively stable over time and have followed similar trends […] before and after the election.”
While Facebook is headed in the direction when it comes to combating misinformation, unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Twitter. The same study discovered that engagement on Twitter, such as retweets, has actually gone up when it comes to fake news — from 4 million engagements in 2016 to 6 million in 2018.
Mark Zuckerberg and company may be on the right track when it comes to fighting fake news, but as you can see from those engagement numbers, it’s not a success story quite yet. Even with the downward trend over the past 2 years, Facebook is still responsible for much more of the spread of fake news than a social platform like Twitter. The company may have a much larger user base than the little blue bird, which certainly accounts for the higher engagement numbers, but it also has many more resources. Along with technology to fight fake news, Facebook has been able to recruit human beings to moderate and monitor the site for misinformation whereas Twitter has made it clear via it’s CEO Jack Dorsey that they don’t want to partake in being “arbiters of truth.” Twitter also likely can’t afford to either.
There isn’t yet cause for celebration, as there’s still much more work to be done in the battle against fake news. The researchers of this study are also open with the fact that additional research is needed even on its findings. However, the study does enforce that these first steps taken by Facebook to curb fake news are indeed having some affect.