A number of establishment media outlets have sounded the alarm over “fake news” spreading in swing states in the month before the election, insinuating that Donald Trump’s win was a result of Russian misinformation efforts.
The only problem: A review of the report the media is relying on shows their conclusion is not accurate.
CNN reported that fake news on Twitter was higher in swing states. The report was accompanied by the chyron, “How ‘Fake News’ Spread During Election Week.”
The study CNN cited comes from the Oxford Internet Institute, titled, “Social Media, News and Political Information during the US Election: Was Polarizing Content Concentrated in Swing States?”
The study’s authors’ do not, however, label their study as necessarily being about “fake news.” Instead, the researchers use the term “junk news.”
The bulk of “Polarizing and Conspiracy Content” comes from so-called “junk news” websites, which makes up 79 percent of the content.
The study does, however, deliberately classify a number of websites as producing “junk news” that are relatively mainstream conservative news outlets — not “fake news.”
One of the study’s researchers with the Oxford Internet Institute told The Daily Caller via email that, “A couple of junk news sites we found to be frequently shared in the US were Infowars, Breitbart, The Washington Examiner, and truthfeed.com.”
Using the report’s findings to conclude “Twitter users in swing states got more fake news than real news in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election,” as Newsweek did, is misleading.
Labeling outlets like Breitbart and the Washington Examiner as “junk news” wildly skews the results of the study. Such sites are not “junk news,” they have seats in the White House press pool and contribute original reporting.
Moreover, Breitbart News, Infowars, and the Washington Examiner don’t even fit the researchers’ own definition of junk news websites. The definition reads in part, “This content is produced by organizations that do not employ professional journalists.”
Breitbart, Infowars, and the Examiner all employ professional journalists.
The study further defined “junk news” as news websites that include, “various forms of propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiratorial political news and information. Much of this content is deliberately produced false reporting. It seeks to persuade readers about the moral virtues or failings of organizations, causes or people and presents commentary as a news product.”
The study uses a table titled, “What Political News and Information Were US Twitter Users Sharing during the Election?” to classify political news on Twitter.
Of all the information on Twitter the study mapped during the election, 20 percent is in the category of “Polarizing and Conspiracy Content,” in Table 1.
Of that, only 3 percent of those stories came from Russia.
Out of that 3 percent, articles from the openly Russian state-funded websites Russia Today and Sputnik were counted as being “Russian content.”
Another 19 percent of that “Polarizing and Conspiracy Content” came from Wikileaks — a site of debatable ethics, but not a “fake news” website. During the election, Wikileaks released emails from John Podesta’s hacked account.
Although some Democrats insinuated that the emails could be fake, cryptographic signatures prove that the Podesta emails released by Wikileaks were undeniably real. (RELATED: Here’s Cryptographic Proof That Donna Brazile Is Wrong, WikiLeaks Emails Are Real)
More information about the study is to come, however, it is unknown what other sites were classified as producing “junk news” stories.
A researcher told this reporter via email, “We plan to make replication data available on our webpage in the future.”
This did not stop many sources from spreading the news that Russian “fake news” had spread like wildfire through Twitter before the election.
Axios reported, “Twitter users got more polarizing and fake news than professional information.”
Meanwhile, Newsweek stated, “Twitter users in swing states got more fake news than real news in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election—and the misinformation helped Donald Trump win, a new study reveals.”
The Washington Post reported, “Propaganda flowed heavily into battleground states around election, study says.”