Last year, fake news websites had about twice as much influence on the media landscape as fact-checking websites did, according to a new study co-authored by a CU Boulder researcher.
Between 2014 and 2016, fake news websites outpaced fact-checking websites, both in terms of the number of articles produced each month and their influence on the broader media agenda, the study found.
"Fact checkers largely were independent in what they chose to cover, but their topical focus didn’t really translate very well to other media," said Chris Vargo, an assistant professor at CU Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI) who co-authored the study with Boston University Assistant Professors Lei Guo and Michelle Amazeen. "The media landscape isn’t listening to fact checking as much as it is to fake news, which is particularly troublesome."
In addition, because fake news is being created at such a high rate and spread so widely, traditional outlets increasingly feel pressure to respond to fake articles and refute false claims. In this way, fake news has real power over the broader media agenda to direct and divert attention to and from issues.
"I think the big thing that I’m realizing across these studies is that anything can distract us," said Vargo, who has done a series of studies analyzing data to explore agenda-setting trends across the media.