STANFORD, Calif. — As social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat move to eliminate “fake news” reports from their sites, researchers from Stanford and New York Universities say Americans can be sure of one thing: the phenomenon did not affect the results of the 2016 presidential election.
The study investigates the influence that fake news may have had on President Trump’s victory.
NYU economics professor Hunt Allcott and Stanford economics professor Matthew Gentzkow led the research. The pair ran a series of tests to determine which fake news articles were circulated, how much of it was circulated, and the amount of voters that believed the stories to be true.
Once they gathered an assortment of fake news stories, Gentzkow and Allcott used fact-checking resources in order to verify that these stories were fake. They then conducted a post-election survey that consisted of 1,200 voters.
Participants were asked what their primary or “most important” source of 2016 election news was. Next, they were presented with a list of true and false news stories, and asked two questions concerning each individual story. The first was whether or not the participant remembered seeing the story. The second question asked whether or not they believed the story.
Although fake news stories in Trump’s favor were shared more times (30 million compared to 8 million for Hillary Clinton), the authors of the report had determined that these stories still did not reach enough voters nationwide to change the election results.
“The average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them,” the authors write. But, “for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads.”
The observers’ work also revealed that a majority of voters were capable of accurately deciding whether or not a news story was true. They concluded that an insignificant number of American voters casted their final decision based on false information.
“In summary, our data suggest that social media were not the most important source of election news, and even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans,” the study concludes.