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  • Coverage: EU Elections Memo

    27 May 2019

    EU voting ballot concept

    The team’s research on junk news during the 2019 EU elections has been widely covered, including in the following:

    BBC: European elections 2019: Facebook and Twitter under the spotlight

    The Oxford study found that under 4% of stories on Twitter came from junk news sources, defined as outlets publishing deliberately misleading, deceptive or incorrect information. That figure did, however, rise to 21% in Poland.

    But on Facebook, while mainstream news was more visible, stories from junk news sources proved far more engaging. In English, for example, the average junk news story got four times as many likes and other Facebook interactions as a story from a professional news organisation.

    Junk news which proved popular included suggestions that a Dutch politician wanted a halal beach in The Hague, a story that a Muslim girl had been killed by her family and dumped in a river for being too “Westernised”, and a report that Vladimir Putin had offered financial assistance to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral.

    New York Times: Fake News Changes Shape as EU Heads Into Elections

    Oxford University researchers studying tweets related to the EU elections found that only a small fraction came from Russian or “junk news” sources while mainstream news stories dominated.

    However, some junk news stories can be several times more popular than those from professional media organizations, with the most successful centered on populist themes such as anti-immigration and Islamophobia while few attacked European leaders and parties or voiced skepticism about the EU, according to the researchers, who compiled about 585,000 tweets in seven European languages.

    “Almost none of the junk we found circulating online came from known Russian sources,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Instead, it is homegrown, hyper-partisan and alternative media that dominate.”

    Financial Times: Online propaganda: how safe were the European parliament elections? (Video)

    Nahema Marchal: “Any given story by a junk news outlet tends to be a lot more engaging. Junk news is emotive. It tends to rely on click-bait and often taps into base emotions like fear or outrage, and that’s something that drives engagement on social media…

    Despite all the concerns that were raised before the election, we find very low levels of junk news overall. And even more strikingly, very few of these links redirected to known Russian sources of misinformation. While the attention was on foreign interference, potentially Russian interference, that was not reflected in our data.”

    Reuters: Echo chambers – Fake news fact-checks hobbled by low reach, study shows

    In Poland – where junk news made up 21% of traffic compared to an average of 4% circulating on Twitter in seven major European languages over one month before the vote, according to the Oxford study – content issued by fact-checkers was mainly shared among those opposed to the ruling Law and Justice party.

    The most successful posts by six Polish fact-checkers scrutinised campaign finance, the murder of a prominent opposition politician and child abuse by the Catholic church.

    NBC:  ‘Junk news’ gets higher engagement before E.U. elections, Oxford study finds

    The sources of the content stoking these divides in the Oxford study differ from some previous findings. Russia is always a top suspect when it comes to online misinformation targeted at elections, but known Russian sources comprised only a handful of links, the researchers found. Along with “junk” news and information sources, known Russian sources counted for only 4 percent of the overall content during the period examined.

    CNBC: ‘Junk news’ gets massive engagement on Facebook ahead of EU elections, study finds

    Misleading news stories from doubtful sources drew in as much engagement on Facebook as articles from legitimate sources in the run up to European elections, according to a study from Oxford University.

    The findings, published Tuesday by the Oxford Internet Institute, said individual so-called “junk news” stories got up to four times as many shares, likes and comments as content from reputable sources.

    Junk news was defined by the institute as articles from outlets that publish “deliberately misleading, deceptive or incorrect information,” typically with an ideological slant.

    TechCrunch: Facebook still a great place to amplify pre-election junk news, EU study finds

    The study also examined how junk news spread on Twitter  during the pre-EU election period, with the researchers finding that less than 4% of sources circulating on Twitter’s platform were junk news (or “known Russian sources”) — with Twitter users sharing far more links to mainstream news outlets overall (34%) over the study period.

    Although the Polish language sphere was an exception — with junk news making up a fifth (21%) of EU election-related Twitter traffic in that outlying case.

    Returning to Facebook, while the researchers do note that many more users interact with mainstream content overall via its platform, noting that mainstream publishers have a higher following and so “wider access to drive activity around their content” and meaning their stories “tend to be seen, liked, and shared by far more users overall”, they also point out that junk news still packs a greater per story punch — likely owing to the use of tactics such as clickbait, emotive language, and outrage mongering in headlines which continues to be shown to generate more clicks and engagement on social media.

    Quartz: Even the Russians don’t seem interested in the European elections

    The study also found that the most extreme and misleading articles that became popular on Facebook came from European sites like France’s Damoclès, Sweden’s Fria Tider, and Poland’s Publiszer. They center on anti-Islam and anti-migrant sentiment, and topics like terrorism and crime.

    Worryingly, the Oxford report found that despite the fact that news stories from credible European sources on Facebook outnumbered “junk news” items, it’s the extreme and incorrect articles about the European Parliament elections that got the most likes, shares, and comments in April.

    In focusing on external threats, the EU might have overlooked the noxious content being produced within its own borders. Europeans might not have to deal with the Russian problem this time. Instead, they have to deal with themselves.

    El Pais: Las ‘fake news’ desaparecen de la campaña de las europeas

    En español solo un 1,4% del tráfico sobre las europeas incluía enlaces de desinformación. El único idioma de los estudiados donde el listón de las noticias falsas era más alto es en polaco, donde un 20% de los tuits era a webs basura. A continuación venía el italiano con casi un 10%, seguido del resto: alemán, sueco, francés, inglés y español. Para entender la magnitud de la caída, el OII encontró que en sueco la relación entre enlaces de medios tradicionales y webs basura en las elecciones de 2018 fue de 1:1; pero para las europeas ha caído hasta 1:0,12. En español esa relación entre links a medios profesionales y basura es la más grande de todos los países estudiados: 1:0,03.

    Zeit Online: Ihr verbreitet ja kaum Lügen!

    Eine nun veröffentlichte Studie des Oxford Internet Institute legt nahe, dass Falschnachrichten in den sozialen Medien bisher keine große Rolle für die Europawahl spielen (Neudert et al., 2019).

    Die Forscherinnen und Forscher haben 584.062 Tweets in Deutschland, Frankreich, Großbritannien, Spanien, Italien, Polen und Schweden ausgewertet, die mit Wahl-Hashtags wie #euelections oder #europawahl versehen waren. Für die Studie wurden Tweets aus 15 Tagen im April 2019 erhoben. 137.658 dieser Tweets enthielten eine URL, die auf eine Nachrichtenseite verwies. Diese teilten die Autoren ein in seriöse Quellen, zum Beispiel traditionelle Medien, und in sogenannte Junk-News. Letztere werden in der Studie als “ideologisch extreme, irreführende und faktisch falsche Informationen” definiert. Als Beispiel dafür nennen die Forscher etwa die deutsche Seite journalistenwatch.comoder auch die amerikanische Website Breitbart.

    Pressetext: Vor EU-Wahl: Kaum “Junk News” auf Twitter

    Im Vorfeld der EU-Wahl fürchten viele, dass eine Flut an Fake News und Ähnlichem genutzt werden könnte, um diese zu beeinflussen. Doch zumindest bislang sieht es nicht so aus. Laut der OII-Analyse von 584.602 Tweets aus den zwei Wochen bis zum 20 April dieses Jahres teilten Twitter-Nutzer in der Vorwahlzeit mit 34 Prozent der Tweets weit mehr professionell aufgearbeitete Nachrichten als Junk News. Einzig im polnischen Sprachraum ist das anders. Dort ist etwas mehr als ein Fünftel der Tweets Nachrichten-Müll und überwiegt damit professionelle Nachrichten.

    “Die gute Nachricht ist, dass die Menge an Junk News, die zur Kampagne grassieren, insgesamt minimal ist”, meint daher Philip Howard, OII-Direktor. Das könnte ein Zeichen dafür sein, dass soziale Medien mittlerweile genauer darauf achten, ob Falschinformationen über ihre Platform verbreitet werden. “Wenn allerdings Junk News auf Facebook gepostet werden, teilen und liken die Leute das häufig immer noch, ohne zu hinterfragen”, betont Howard. Bis zu vier Mal mehr Beachtung als seriöse Nachrichten erhält Müll so, wie eine Analyse der auf Facebook verbreiteten News aus 70 seriösen und dubiosen Quellen für den Zeitraum vom 5. April bis 5. Mai ergeben hat.

    Süddeutsche Zeitung: Müllnachrichten für die Eurosphäre

    Besonders hierzulande ist das Verhältnis extrem: “In Deutschland, haben die Top 5 Quellen für Junknachrichten sechsmal so viele Interaktionen – Likes, Shares und Kommentare – generiert wie die Top 5 der professionellen Nachrichtenquellen”, so Lisa-Maria Neudert, Mitautorin der Oxford-Studie zu SZ.de. “Das war von allen Sprach-Sphären, die wir untersucht haben die verhältnismäßig größte Interaktion für Junk News. Sie haben also ein enormes Viralitätspotenzial.” Das Viralitätspotenzial führen die Forscher vor allem auf die emotionalen Anreize zurück.

    The Times: Fake news gets more love than the real thing on Facebook

    Researchers in Oxford have found that the most popular “junk news” stories on Facebook before the European elections in May received more shares, likes and comments than news from established media.

    Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher with the Computational Propaganda project, revealed her team’s findings on the eve of the government’s digital summit.

    She said computational propaganda used algorithms and automation to manipulate the public, and that junk news, commonly called fake news, used bots and human trolls to amplify attention-grabbing content.

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