N.Y.U. Study: Far-Right Misinformation Is Facebook’s Most Engaging Political Content

Laura Edelson, Minh-Kha Nguyen, Ian Goldstein, Oana Goga, Tobias Lauinger, and Damon McCoy, in a bracing report for the Center for Cybersecurity at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering:

Facebook has become a major way people find news and information in an increasingly politically polarized nation. We analyzed how users interacted with different types of posts promoted as news in the lead-up to and aftermath of the U.S. 2020 elections. We found that politically extreme sources tend to generate more interactions from users. In particular, content from sources rated as far-right by independent news rating services consistently received the highest engagement per follower of any partisan group. Additionally, frequent purveyors of far-right misinformation had on average 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages. We found:

  • Sources of news and information rated as far-right generate the highest average number of interactions per follower with their posts, followed by sources from the far-left, and then news sources closer to the center of the political spectrum.
  • Looking at the far-right, misinformation sources far outperform non-misinformation sources. Far-right sources designated as spreaders of misinformation had an average of 426 interactions per thousand followers per week, while non-misinformation sources had an average of 259 weekly interactions per thousand followers. […]
  • Center and left partisan categories incur a misinformation penalty, while right-leaning sources do not. Center sources of misinformation, for example, performed about 70% worse than their non-misinformation counterparts. (Note: center sources of misinformation tend to be sites presenting as health news that have no obvious ideological orientation.)

That’s the basic story in a nut: It’s not the same “on both sides”. The far right has a weakness for misinformation that the rest of the political spectrum does not. From the far left to the slightly right, the NYU study shows a preference for accurate news over misinformation; it’s only the far right that prefers misinformation, and they prefer it strongly.

It’s not that Facebook’s leadership is pro-right-wing misinformation, but that they value engagement over all else. And if right-wing misinformation is catnip for a large audience, so be it. If it’s engaging, they push it.

(Via Protocol.)

Tuesday, 9 March 2021