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Dec. 1, 2017, 10:05 a.m.
Audience & Social

Maybe it’s also time to start calling fact-checking something else. (Anybody got any ideas?)

Plus: Fake news probably didn’t swing the election, political polarization is nothing new, and Kara Swisher’s kid.

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

“Social media is still a relatively small part of most people’s news diet.” Stanford economist Matthew Gentzkow came to Northeastern University yesterday to go over a bunch of his research to try to answer three questions: 1. Are Americans more polarized than ever? 2. Is it the Internet’s fault? 3. Did fake news change the 2016 election outcome? This stuff isn’t super-super new, but it can be good to get a refresher. The answers (according to the work he’s done), and you can watch the session here too:

1. Americans are increasingly polarized, though the country’s also seen deep divisions in the past (with equally high levels of partisanship shown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries…after the Civil War). He doesn’t see evidence of increasing divisions among people’s views on individual issues or in terms of their self-described political ideologies. Here’s where his data does indicate increased polarization: The correlation of views across issues; the correlation between issue views and party; straight ticket voting; and, especially, increased feelings of hostility and negativity toward those in the opposite political party.

2. “You want to be careful not to assume that social media is a dominant source of information for a large set of Americans,” Gentzkow said. His research at the beginning of the year, with Hunt Allcott of NYU, showed most Americans still relying on TV rather than the Internet for their 2016 U.S. presidential election news.

3. Did fake news swing the election? “My guess is probably it didn’t.” He and Allcott calculated most voters would have seen and remembered between 1 and 5 fake news stories during the election.

Nieman Lab previously interviewed Gentzkow here. He might be my favorite things-aren’t-100-percent-totally-terrible academic.

Fact-checking is now seen as a liberal concept. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released a new report, “Bias, Bullshit and Lies: Audience Perspectives on Low Trust in the Media,” which my colleague Ricardo Bilton covered here. One extra thing that I found interesting:

Fact-checking was spontaneously mentioned dozens of times by US respondents but only by a handful of people elsewhere. In the US, the term ‘fact-checking’ has become part of the language by which political stories are told. ‘Journalists will fact-check what the politicians say’, says one respondent who self-identifies on the political left. However, we find that these techniques are hardly mentioned by those on the political right, suggesting that fact checking may not be seen as politically neutral by supporters of President Trump, instead having the effect of reinforcing political views. In highly polarized situations, greater use of political fact-checking might have the unintended consequence of decreasing confidence in the news media in general.

By contrast, credible and transparent sourcing by journalists seems to be respected across the political divide.

“Why Trump can’t resist retweeting hate.” Here is an animated, explanatory video from the British comedian and actor Stephen Fry.

Do teens care about fake news? One teen does not. It’s Kara Swisher’s son, if that makes a difference.

Illustration from L.M. Glackens’ The Yellow Press (1910) via The Public Domain Review.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Dec. 1, 2017, 10:05 a.m.
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