“Fake news” is a term that’s been thrown around a lot in recent times.
Whether it’s Donald Trump or other people in the media, it’s clear that not everything people read on social media these days is true. As technology continues to evolve and more aspects of life become increasingly digital, it’s no surprise that fake news stories pop up on social media sites regularly. New research has revealed just who is sharing and spreading these stories and it turns out it is older members of the community who are apparently falling for the tricks and sharing the most amount of these articles online.
A study published in Science Advances has found over-65s share nearly seven times as many articles from fake news sites as the youngest age group analysed. Generally this fake or misleading content is dressed up to look like legitimate news articles, mostly in a bid to generate ad revenue. This makes it difficult for social media users to determine what is real and what is not.
As part of the American study, researchers analysed data from participants’ Facebook sharing history, looking at how many times users posted fake news on their account. While sharing this content wasn’t a common occurrence, the older generation — particularly people over 65 — were noted as those most likely to do so. According to the researchers, this was true even when comparing demographic characteristics.
“Our most robust finding is that the oldest Americans, especially those over 65, were more likely to share fake news to their Facebook friends,” the study explained. “This is true even when holding other characteristics – including education, ideology, and partisanship – constant. No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more notable.”
In fact, a total of 11 per cent of users older than 65 shared a hoax, compared to 3 per cent of users aged between 18 and 29. When it came to Facebook, older people shared more than twice as many fake news articles as the youngest age group.
The study put blame on over 65s for sharing the content, albeit a small proportion of the population, with very few in their late teens to late twenties falling for the tricks.
“Over 65 implies that being in the oldest age group was associated with sharing nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains on Facebook as those in the youngest age group, or about 2.3 times as many as those in the next oldest age group, holding the effect of ideology, education, and the total number of web links shared constant,” the study read.
Researchers said there needed to be further education for particularly vulnerable subgroups, including people over the age of 65, about fake news. Fake news — which is false or misleading information that appears to resemble a news article — gained prominence during and after the 2016 US election.
“If seniors are more likely to share fake news than younger people, then there are important implications for how we might design interventions to reduce the spread of fake news,” Andrew Guess, assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, said in a statement earlier this year.