Online Intermediaries and the Consumption of Polarized and Inaccurate News During the 2016 Presidential Election
AbstractDuring the 2016 Presedential Election, citizens consumed news in fundamentally different ways than in the past.
Online news took on new prominence, but the biggest change was likely the central role of social media.
A number of research questions emerge, such as, how important were fake and highly polarized news articles during the U.S. election? Which groups consumed it? Did they consume only one-sided news, or did they consume both left and right leaning news? How did consumers get exposed to fake and polarized news? In this paper, we analyze these questions using panel data about consumer behavior on web browsers and mobile phones. We find that fake and polarized news were significant factors for subsets of the population, particularly right-leaning readers, older readers, and readers of social media. Social Media was responsible for a large share of fake news reading. We also look at the demographics of news reading; race is a strong predictor for reading, where Black readers are much less likely to read fake news, and also much less likely to visit the campaign website for Donald Trump. Gender is a strong predictor of visiting Hillary Clinton's campaign website and particularly for visiting donation pages, while is is less important for predicting Trump website visits.