Oxford Internet Institute finds more ‘junk news’ on Facebook than Twitter

9 Dec 2019

Image: PA Media

According to researchers, the most commonly shared junk news stories ahead of the UK general election have been distorted versions of articles from mainstream news sources.

So-called ‘junk news’ is on the decline on Twitter but still receives high engagement on Facebook, researchers claim.

Analysis of disinformation by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) found overall levels of misleading news circulating in the run-up to the 12 December general election were “relatively low”.

While  junk news sites post an average of 9.6 stories per day compared with 38.2 per day from major news organisations, their articles are “more likely” to be shared on Facebook, OII researchers said.

The OII team, which is part of the University of Oxford, also found that 40pc of junk news posts provoked “extreme reactions” from users, compared to more moderate responses to mainstream stories shared on Facebook.

Junk news sources are defined as those which “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture”, the OII said.

Sources of misleading news

Nearly half of junk news outlets are from sources outside of the UK, with many based in the US, Canada or Germany, according to researchers, who added there was “little trace” of the known Russian sources of propaganda.

The most popular junk stories shared on Facebook during the campaign so far have been distorted versions of articles from mainstream news sources, the OII added.

More than a third of all stories analysed referred to the mainstream media and political journalists in their headlines, while three-quarters of those found to be distorted combined this with accusations of wrongdoing, bias or lying, researchers said.

Less than a fifth of junk news stories focused on the parties’ agendas and proposed policies.

However, the analysis found there were two “notable exceptions”: footage of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s proposal to strengthen Britain’s immigration laws and a video condemning home secretary Priti Patel after she claimed poverty was not the Government’s fault.

Sharing articles from the mainstream media was more popular on Twitter, with links to major news brands making up 33pc of shared links, compared to less than 2pc from sources defined as junk news in the build-up to the election.

A decline?

Prof Philip Howard, director of the OII, said:  “During the 2017 general election campaign, we found that junk news was much more prominent, but this time around that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Nahema Marchal, co-author of the report, said: “What’s interesting to note from our analysis is that the most viral stories from junk news sites do not peddle misinformation as such, but often spin the truth in an attempt to discredit the mainstream and established media.”

The research team examined 1.76m tweets related to the UK general election from 284,265 unique users between 13 and 19 November. From this sample, they extracted 308,793 tweets containing a URL link, with a total of 28,532 unique URLs analysed.

The team also analysed the volume of Facebook interactions with junk news and professional news outlets between6 and 27 November and analysed the most popular junk news stories.

– PA Media