According to a new study conducted by New York University and Princeton University, the amount of fake news shared on Facebook isn’t based on a user’s education, sex, race, income, or party affiliation.
The study examined user behavior in the months prior to and following the 2016 presidential election. The study found that across all categories, sharing fake news was a relatively rare category. With this in mind, Americans over 65 years old disproportionately shared fake news on Facebook. Eleven percent of users in study older than 65 shared fake news, while only 3 percent of users 18 to 29 shared fake news links.
Co-author of the study, Andrew Guess, political scientist at Princeton University, remarked:
When we bring up the age finding, a lot of people say, “oh yeah, that’s obvious.” For me, what is pretty striking is that the relationship holds even when you control for party affiliation or ideology. The fact that it’s independent of these other traits is pretty surprising to me. It’s not just being driven by older people being more conservative.
The researchers have two theories why older people are more likely to spread fake news. One is that, because older users did not grow up with the internet, they have lower digital literacy skills. The other is that the cognitive decline that comes with age makes them vulnerable to falling for hoaxes.
The authors of the study hope to conduct further research to support their theories and help prevent the spread of fake news in the future.