Survey Finds Older Americans Tweet More Fake News About COVID-19
Republicans also tweet out fake news sites more than Democrats, independents
Get all our news
Older Americans and Republicans are more likely to share fake news websites about COVID-19 on Twitter, new research shows. But at the same time, older people are less likely to believe misinformation about the pandemic than younger ones.
The researchers, who included IPR political scientist James Druckman, examined over 29.6 million tweets about COVID-19 by 1.6 million registered voters, collected between January 1 and September 30. They asked, "Who is sharing fake news about the pandemic and what are they sharing?" Over 7 million COVID-19 tweets included a website URL, of which a little more than 1% were from fake news sites.
Voters over 65 years old shared the most websites on COVID-19 in their tweets compared to younger age cohorts. And older voters, across all political orientations, shared more fake news websites than younger voters did.
Political independents over the age of 65 shared pandemic news from websites at a rate of 54.1 per person, nearly 10 times as often as the youngest cohort of independents, those aged 18–29, who shared only 5.7 per person. Nearly 4% of the tweets by over-65 independents shared fake news websites, but only 0.2% of all websites shared by those aged 18–29 contained fake news sites.
Yet earlier research from the same university consortium between Northwestern, Harvard, Northeastern, and Rutgers, the State of the Nation: A 50-State COVID-19 Survey, revealed that younger people of all political stripes, compared to older ones, are more likely to believe one of 11 pieces of misinformation about COVID-19.
“The work shows that sharing and believing are two distinct behaviors that can evolve over time,” Druckman said.
Registered Republicans in all age groups shared more fake news websites in their tweets than registered Democrats and independents, the researchers discovered. Of the COVID-19 websites tweeted by Democrats over 65, 0.4% were from fake news sites, but 3.7% of independents’ shared sites and 5.3% of the Republicans’ sites were fake news sources.
Of the fake news sources, Gateway Pundit was shared most often by far among all the tweets examined. It ranked as the fourth and sixth most-shared website in August and September. Only mainstream media outlets the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN were shared more. Other fake news sites received an order of magnitude fewer shares.
“It is helpful to pinpoint particular sources of misinformation as that provides a pathway to antidotes,” Druckman said.
James Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR associate director and fellow. Previous surveys can be found here.
Published: October 21, 2020.