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Trump backers lead in sharing 'junk' political news, researchers find

Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Backers of President Donald Trump are sharing more "junk" political news -- ideologically extreme, conspiratorial, sensationalist and phony information -- on Twitter and Facebook than all other groups combined, British researchers found.

Rather than obtaining news over social media from mainstream outlets, these Americans shared posts from 92 Twitter accounts of fringe groups such as "100PercentFEDUp," "Beforeitsnews," "TheAngryAmericans" and "WeArethenewmedia" during the three months before Trump's first State of the Union address, the Oxford University researchers reported.

The study, which collected data from hundreds of thousands of social media accounts, found similar patterns among Facebook users.

Although the "junk" news sites considered in the analysis included those on both the left and right, lead researcher Philip Howard said the findings suggest "that most of the junk news that people share over social media ends up with Trump's fans, the far right. They're playing with different facts, and they think they have the inside scoop on conspiracies."

As a result, he said in a phone interview, it appears that "a small chunk of the population isn't able to talk politics or share ideas in a sensible way with the rest of the population."

"That's a problem for democracy," Howard said. "In an ideal world, everybody would get at least a few of the same news stories, There'd be some shared facts and some shared understanding of the problems" facing the country.

Oxford's Internet Institute has been at the forefront in studying the effects of expanded social-media use on politics and democracy in more than two dozen Western countries. The Oxford researchers previously published analyses of the reach of "junk news" during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, especially in Michigan, a presidential swing state, and among military veterans.

Trump's combative style and daily Twitter posts have complicated matters further. Since his presidential campaign, he has repeatedly accused many mainstream U.S. news outlets, including The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, of publishing and broadcasting "fake news" critical of him, his family and his administration.

The Oxford study cited "increasing evidence of a rise in polarization in the U.S. news landscape in response to the 2016 election."

"Trust in news is strikingly divided across ideological lines, and an ecosystem of alternative news is flourishing, fueled by extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news," the study said.

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