If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past two weeks, you’ve likely seen more than your share of reports on Facebook’s fake news problem, but just how bad is it really? PC World performed a rather interesting test to answer that question, and the results are jarring.
To test what kind of fake news was being circulated, and who was seeing it, two entirely new Facebook profiles were created. Both white males of the same age, each of the profiles “liked” three people: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton on one, and Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Newt Gingrich on the other. Then, PC World tracked all the stories that Facebook recommended for each fake profile.
After just two days, the page of the Republican-leading user was littered with fake news posts — 10 in total — while the stories that populated the Democratic-leaning user’s news feed were all factual.
The startling contrast showed that many of the false narratives were based around claims of Democratic wrongdoing, such as Michael Moore “attempting a coup d’etat against Trump” in which the Secret Service had to intervene, or that Clinton has been circulating the personal information of Electoral College members to bully them into voting for her. Meanwhile, the user flagged as a Democrat received posts based on Gallup polls and petitions.
Overall, the story breakdown shows that the Republican was flooded with nearly three times as many political stories, and almost four times as many stories PC World classified as “slanted.”
The results, which you should definitely read in full, highlight a big problem with Facebook’s echo chamber, but it’s hard to say how much of an impact these fake stories actually have on the reader. The spread of fake news on social media is largely isolated to — and shared by — the individuals who already hold a certain belief.
Would eliminating those 10 fake news stories have measurably changed the outlook of the Republican user, when even the factual stories on both sides are dramatically slanted in terms of tone and content? It’s impossible to say, but it’s certainly worth consideration.