Despite crackdown, 'junk news' still flourishes on social media

November 3, 2018 by Rob Lever
Even as efforts ramp up to root out misinformation such as Facebook's "War Room," seen here, researchers say low quality and "junk news" is still flourishing on social media

Despite an aggressive crackdown by social media firms, so-called "junk news" is spreading at a greater rate than in 2016 on social media ahead of the US midterm elections, according to researchers.

Oxford Internet Institute researchers concluded that Facebook and Twitter remain filled with "extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary," and other forms of "low-quality" news.

In analyzing some 2.5 million tweets and 6,986 Facebook pages over a 30-day period, the study found that less than five percent of the sources referenced on were from public agencies, experts or political candidates themselves.

"We found that the proportion of junk news circulating over social media has increased in the US since 2016, with users sharing higher proportions of junk news than links to professional content overall," the report released Thursday said.

It added that "junk news once concentrated among President (Donald) Trump's support base has now spread to include communities of mainstream political conservatives."

Philip Howard, director of the institute and a study author, said the latest research did not seek to analyze how much of the content came from automated accounts or "bots," or whether it was directed from foreign entities.

But he noted that "this style of producing junk news probably has a Russian origin," adding, "that's what the Russians used in the 2016 election, and now there are domestic sources copying that style."

Facebook and Twitter dispute the conclusions of a study claiming "junk news" is more prevalent now than in 2016
Tweaks not enough?

Howard said the efforts by Twitter and Facebook to root out misinformation amounted to "tweaks," and that "the evidence suggests little tweaks don't add up to a big impact."

As part of the research, the authors created an online tool to allow anyone to follow and analyze low-quality news and posts.

Responding to the study, Twitter and Facebook questioned the conclusions and methods used by the researchers.

"We respect and appreciate strong independent research but we challenge some of the findings here," a Twitter spokeswoman said in a statement to AFP.

"Many of the links deemed as 'junk' by the researchers are media outlets that reflect views within American society. Banning them from our service would be a knee-jerk reaction and would severely hinder public debate, the potential for counter narratives to take hold, and meaningful discussion of news consumption."

Twitter said many of the sources cited in the study were "not foreign, not bots, and for the most part not coordinated. They are real people sharing news that reflects their views."

Facebook has established a team for its "War Room" designed to root out misinformation, but some researchers say it's not enough
Opposite conclusions

Facebook pointed to other research suggesting a decline in misinformation.

"The conclusions drawn in this research shouldn't be seen as the authority on this topic," Facebook said in a statement.

"The central takeaway of this study—that, 'the proportion of junk news circulating over social media has increased since 2016'—is actually based on data from Twitter and then applied to 'social media' more broadly."

The Oxford researchers said that its definition of "junk" is based on specific criteria, including a lack of professional journalism practices, use of hyperbole or misleading headlines, and relying on untrustworthy sources of information.

Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University professor specializing in social media who is not affiliated with the Oxford study, said she was not surprised by the findings because of the design of social networks.

"Because clicks lead to revenue, social networks elevate junk news," she said.

"If we are starting to feel like this is a world of reality TV, it's by design, That's how the system was built."

Grygiel said that Twitter's algorithms give priority to "verified" users, but that those who get the verification badge are more likely to be celebrities than academics or intellectuals, and this can result in proliferation of gossip and "tabloid-style" news.

She noted that while social networks have begun to crack down on "coordinated and inauthentic" efforts by foreign entities, this has not impacted what many consider as "low quality" .

"I wouldn't say they're focused on downgrading tabloid content," Grygiel said.

Explore further: Most Americans get news from social media, despite doubts: survey

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13 comments

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MuneShadowe
5 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2018

At times the biggest junk news comes from the top at facebook.
KBK
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 03, 2018
We're finding out now, that the reason they got rid of Alex Jones, is that his readership and viewership was exceeding so called official sanctioned outfits like CNN.

The fact that he was 'taken out' simultaneously across multiple platforms, shows that there is no such thing as a free press, no natural press or open press.

What we have is a controlled and directed press, with the appearance of a free press for the illiterate, unobservant, and unaware --among us.

I'm neither for nor against Alex Jones, I never followed his website and shows, but I was aware of his existence, and so on.

The coordinated and choreographed attack against him and others..quite clearly shows the hand of this loosely gathered but quite effective 'deep state' set of operators.

Thus the provenance of this 'fake news' article, right here (all 'fake news' articles), on physorg.... is VERY MUCH in question, and it's all propaganda statements, if one bothers to investigate original sources.
Evil_Klown
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2018
"It added that 'junk news once concentrated among President (Donald) Trump's support base has now spread to include communities of mainstream political conservatives.'"

Of course there's no reason to mention that the intellectual betters (liberals) share any fake news, right? If fake news were feces, this article would be a pant-load.
Doug_Nightmare
not rated yet Nov 03, 2018
The problem is much broader than that.

In my Island community of < 1000 souls, our wastewater plant has been condemned by the state. My holding tank will have to be emptied in a month or so and all the conventional POWTS must be pumped each 3 years. Big deal? Not to the community not-news rag. Silence, because TPTB want to bandage obsolescent technology and will not hear arguments to the contrary.
Doug_Nightmare
not rated yet Nov 03, 2018
Here's a good academic paper on FakeNews

https://arxiv.org....00964v2
Agent K67
not rated yet Nov 03, 2018
All respectable journalism is behind pay walls. Un-shareable. How does it ever change? You can subscribe but you cant force your fellow americans - even if the stereotypical american who has no savings, no 401k, no stocks, and too much credit card debt - to subscribe to every respectable major news org. Id wager that 90% of Americans don't even know what a good news organization is - which is why so many lick up the "fake news" applied to every major respectable news organization. And no - fox, abc, nbc,cbs are not worthy - they are entertaiment driven and water everything down to the lowest common denominator in 50 words and acquiese far too much spin from the swamp.
jonesdave
2 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2018
All respectable journalism is behind pay walls. Un-shareable. How does it ever change? You can subscribe but you cant force your fellow americans - even if the stereotypical american who has no savings, no 401k, no stocks, and too much credit card debt - to subscribe to every respectable major news org. Id wager that 90% of Americans don't even know what a good news organization is - which is why so many lick up the "fake news" applied to every major respectable news organization. And no - fox, abc, nbc,cbs are not worthy - they are entertaiment driven and water everything down to the lowest common denominator in 50 words and acquiese far too much spin from the swamp.


Can you get BBC World News easily? I would recommend it. U.S. news organisations, in my limited experience, are either biased or crap. Or both.
Agent K67
not rated yet Nov 03, 2018
Yes, but Americans will likeley not use. Most Americans have no clue who BBC is (only something like 35% of US adults have a college education) and here in the states the equivalent NPR is seen as heavily biased towards the left, and most of the subject matter does bear out this "superfluous" "liberal arts" bias. (And also very controversial with regards to partial government funding with our current alt-right occupants)
Shootist
5 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2018
Yes, but Americans will likeley not use. Most Americans have no clue who BBC is (only something like 35% of US adults have a college education) and here in the states the equivalent NPR is seen as heavily biased towards the left, and most of the subject matter does bear out this "superfluous" "liberal arts" bias. (And also very controversial with regards to partial government funding with our current alt-right occupants)


and no more than the top 10% or 15% in intelligence should spend time at University in any case.
jonesdave
3 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2018
and no more than the top 10% or 15% in intelligence should spend time at University in any case.


Correct. That is not to say that people should not have the chance of attending tertiary education of some description.
The U.K. is no better, these days. You can get a degree in 'Media Studies', FFS! In other words, watching TV! Which seems to be what most people do these days, when they aren't wandering aimlessly down the pavement (sidewalk) toward you whilst staring at their mobile phones!

julianpenrod
3.3 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2018
ABC News ran a "crawl" that said Paul Manafort had pleaded guilty to five counts of manslaughter. Was that true?
CNN ran an article indicating Donald Trump had a psychotic fear of stairs. Was that truthful?
When Trump, at a rally, said the Democrats were the party of criminals and the Republicans were the party of law and order, CNN ran a caption that said that Trump said the Republicans are the party of wealth?
How true was it for the "press" to run pictures of Trump rallies before the rallies started, to give the impression that no one attends his rallies?
How much truth is there in the "press" constructing an unprecedented gigantic compound of buildings and tents, bigger than the Capitol Building, the "reporters' pavilion", in the middle of the National Mall on Inauguration Day, to prevent as many people as would have gathered for Trump's inauguration from gathering?
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2018
It added that "junk news once concentrated among President (Donald) Trump's support base has now spread to include communities of mainstream political conservatives."

Just which person in the Ministry of Truth gets to determine what is "Junk and what is "Truth"?
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2018
The fact is that MSM media has never been more agenda prone. Only the "Truth" that is helpful to the agenda gets published. Thus, the internet has become the main source of news for manly. Just look at the average news stand. They are lucky to sell 30 copies of newspapers a day.

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