Tales of lies, manipulative messages or fake truths that spread virally across the web – all this can be found under the collective term “Fake News”.
The Duden defines “Fake News” as “in the media and on the Internet, especially in social media, in manipulative intent widespread false reports.”
False reports are of course nothing new. But the speed with which they sometimes spread in the network is a new phenomenon. But aside from those who create the fake news, who is responsible for spreading it?
A recent study comes to a surprising answer: it is above all people over 65!
How did the researchers come to this conclusion?
Tracking app tracked posts on Facebook
This has been determined by the British market and opinion research institute YouGov. The Institute has published the results in the scientific publication Science Advances.
The investigations began in 2016 during the US presidential campaign. YouGov collaborated with 3,500 Americans for the study. The participants came from different age groups and pursued different political ideologies.
Immediately after the election, YouGov asked the study participants if they would accept a kind of tracking application in their Facebook feeds. This gave Yougov access to information such as the public profile, posts on the timeline, and pages followed by the participants.
The app did not allow the researchers any insights into the users ‘news feed and did not have access to friends’ data.
After all, 49 percent of the participants who were also Facebook users agreed. For a long time researchers began to filter fake news out of the participants’ shared links.
Age more important than political sentiment
Overall, they found that only a minority of participants (8.5 percent) posted any links to faulty messages.
In the survey, Republicans (18 percent) and, more rarely, Democrats (four percent) shared fake news. However, according to the researchers, this was also because, during the election campaign, the majority of fake news circulating on the Net came from Trump supporters.
If you filter that factor out of the results, something much more surprising comes out. Above average numbers of older people shared false reports on their profiles.
In direct comparison, it was eleven percent of users over the age of 65, while only three percent of users aged 18 to 29 spread such reports.
Also the difference to the neighboring age category of the Facebook users between 45 and 65 years was large. The older users shared more than twice as many fake news articles as the younger users.
Again, this may be explained by the fact that older people are more conservative. But even when the scientists controlled the political sentiment and party affiliation, it remained at the same result.
Older people shared fake news more often – regardless of their political opinion.
Are seniors more susceptible to scams?
Unfortunately, the study does not explain why that is. Maybe it’s because many seniors are not as skilled with digital media as younger internet users and therefore do not recognize fake news so quickly.
But it can also be because our cognitive abilities decrease with age. This is supported by the fact that seniors tend to fall for cheating.
This seems so common, especially in the US, that the FBI warns older citizens – especially older, single women – specifically against it. The researchers hope that with this knowledge, they will be better able to combat the spread of false reports online.