New research shows people over the age of 65 shared fake news articles online nearly seven times more than younger social media users.
New York University conducted the research by analysing what 3500 study participants shared on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election.
The study found less than nine percent of Americans shared links to so-called “fake news” sites on Facebook, but this behavior was disproportionately common among people over the age of 65.
Only three percent of those aged 18-29 shared links from fake news sites, compared with 11 percent of those over age 65.
One of the report’s authors, Joshua Tucker, told Summer Report most people managed to avoid fake news altogether.
“One of the interesting things about the research is that over 90 percent of people didn’t share a single link.
“The second interesting thing was who was sharing these links, so the things that didn’t actually have much of an affect on who shared fake news, that surprised us a bit, were things like education and income and gender, so none of those factors had any real affect on who was sharing links to these fake news sites.
“What turned out to have the largest effect in terms of predicting how much fake news people shared, turned out to be age. So in particular people over the age of 65 were much more likely to share fake news than younger people in our sample,” he said.
Mr Tucker pointed out that Republican and conservative supporters were much more likely to have shared fake news than liberals and Democrat voters.
“However, we want to caution that we don’t know why that was the case. It’s possible that this just reflects an innate proclivity of Republicans or conservatives to try to be more likely to share fake news.
“But it could also be the case that there was just much more pro Trump and anti Clinton fake news out there. So if you think that Democrats are only going to want to share fake news if it’s pro Clinton and anti Trump, or republicans are only going to want to share pro Trump or anti Clinton then if there was – and there seems to be a lot of evidence to the case that there was a lot of pro Trump fake news out there, much more than there was pro Clinton fake news out there – then that’s another possible explanation.
“One other interesting thing about this was that when we look at independents, independents actually were just as likely to share fake news as Republicans were,” he said.
Mr Tucker said the next phase of the research is to understand why age impacts who shares fake news on social media.
“If we can figure out why age is so important in determining who shared links to fake news sites, then of course that has really important connotations for how we might develop interventions to deal with this.
“The most obvious potential explanation would be that this has something to do with digital literacy. People my age tell their parents to get on Facebook so they can see pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook, they [over 65s] get on Facebook and over the course of the 2016 election campaign, at that point in time, anything on Facebook that was supposedly from a news source would look very similar [to a legitimate site] – it would a picture with a headline and a blurb.
“You could have something from the New York Times, which is one of the most long-standing and distinguished newspapers we have in the United States, and it would render and look very similar to something like the Denver Sentinal which is a non-existent newspaper that was made up by one of these fake news sources and they would both look kind of similar.”