A study published in Science Advances Wednesday found that Facebook users over the age of 65 shared by far the most fake news stories during the 2016 presidential election than any other age group.
The study, conducted by researchers from Princeton University and New York University, found that users of 65 shared twice as many fake news stories as users between 45 and 65 and seven times as many fake news stories as users between 18 and 29.
The study found that 90 percent of Facebook users did not share any fake news to their friends’ feed but found that seniors, regardless of their political ideology, were most likely to share misinformation to their friends’ feeds.
The study did find that Republicans were more likely to share fake news than Democrats, but that may be caused by other factors, like Facebook being more likely to introduce fake news to conservative Facebook feeds to begin with.
“We were interested in a lot of questions related to learning about the political campaign via social media, but I can't say we had this particular topic in mind when we started,” Andrew Guess, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at Princeton University, told Motherboard. “But it didn't take long for us to realize what we had!”
The study suggested that the effects of aging may lessen “resistance to ‘illusions of truth.’” The authors suggested that “simple interventions, perhaps even built into online social environments” could help improve media literacy regardless of age.
Researchers say there’s less fake news than you think:
While the takeaway for many was that the elderly are significantly responsible for the spread of fake news on Twitter, the researchers say the real takeaway is that sharing fake news is a “relatively rare activity.”
“The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all,” they wrote. “Sharing of stories from fake news domains is a much rarer event than sharing links overall… over 90% of our respondents shared no stories from fake news domains.”
Elderly users share fake news regardless of political ideology:
“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 said. “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.”