Almost 5.3 million people have shared, liked or reacted to Dutch junk news on Facebook at one time or another, a report by Leiden university researchers has found.
In total the team analysed more than 117,000 Facebook messages placed online between January 2013 and December 2017.
Junk news is mostly produced by obscure media, such as Trendnieuws and Viraal Vandaag and can be identified as such by its sensationalist click bait titles. Facebook page administrators use the articles in the hope of tempting users to go to websites which contain the adverts they make their money from.
The researchers compared 63 junk news pages on Facebook to 20 more traditional outlets, such as NU.nl, leading broadcasters, magazines, newspapers and shock blogs.
The number of pulp news items, which in 2013 and 2014 was practically nil, leapt up in 2017 when 6,000 pulp news items a month were added to the pages. The number of news items released on traditional outlets remained about the same with around 970 items a month.
Junk news items, the researchers found, get an average of 429 likes compared to 363 for traditional media news. ‘Junk news pages have got more successful over time in attracting user engagement,’ the report said. ‘From the beginning of 2016, junk news has consistently attracted more user interactions per post than mainstream news.’
The report also shows that Dutch junk news Facebook pages frequently promote fake, stories. For example, the researchers found a completely bogus story about animal abuse by asylum seekers had been published on 13 different websites and was shared 55,292 times over a two month period.
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