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Fake news has limited reach—but high engagement—in France and Italy

February 7, 2018 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

In efforts to quantify the spread of false information online, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, examines the reach of fake news in France and Italy. Both countries see fake news as a serious issue. However, the report, Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe, determined the reach of fake news websites as less than 1 percent of each countries online population.

The study based its analysis on 300 websites in each country that independent fact-checkers identify as publishers of false news. The research combines analytics from ComScore and CrowdTangle to measure usage of both established news and fake news sites. comScore, a web analytics company, uses a combination of panel-based and server-side measurement to provide usage data and CrowdTangle, a web tool, collects engagement data for Facebook accounts using the Facebook API.

Time Spent

The data also shows that the total time spent with fake news websites each month is lower than the time spent with established news websites. Online users spend an average of 178 million minutes per month with Le Monde (France), and 443 million minutes with La Repubblica (Italy), that’s more time than 20 fake news sites combined.

Still the impact of social platforms must also be accounted for in this analysis. Unfortunately, Reuters cannot measure Facebook’s average monthly reach or time spent for any website or article link Facebook. (Only Facebook has access to this data.)

Interactions

However, Reuters did examine the average number of Facebook interactions (shares, comments, reactions) with each news outlet to access user engagement. Importantly, based on this analysis, Reuters determined that a few of the fake news websites generated more or as many interactions as established news brands. In fact, one fake news site in France generated an average of over 11 million interactions per month, at least five times greater than established news brands

While the research suggests that articles from fake news sites registered low reach and social engagement in these countries, there are still those one-off articles that reach high levels of engagement. The problem poses serious implications and what still needs to be determine is the impact of the false information on people’s attitudes and beliefs.

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