Niche Communities a Gateway for Alternative Facts, Study Finds
A joint research project between the United States, England and Spain was conducted to assess the speed by which mainstream reports and alternative news saturates social media. After assessing millions of posts from sites like Twitter and 4chan, Jeremy Blackburn, Ph.D, and his colleagues discovered that fringe sites like 4chan and Reddit have a potent influence on what makes it to Twitter.
The team’s findings indicate that fringe sites serve as an incubation chamber for multiple hoaxes, misquotes and incorrect stories. Content and discussions held within those sites are continually refined until they reach a breaking point and saturate the internet’s mainstream news sites.
Blackburn’s team assessed any and all discussions held through Twitter, Reddit and 4chan that linked to 45 mainstream sites and 54 sites dedicated to alternative news, starting on June 20th 2016 and concluding February 28th 2017. Their research consisted of 400,000 tweets, nearly two million posts and comments on Reddit and nearly 100,000 posts and replies on 4chan. By comparing the occurrence of 99 URLs among the top 20 mainstream and alternative news sites, the team noticed that Breitbart.com occupied 55 percent of the URLs from six subreddits; 14 percent of the time on nytimes.com; 44 percent of Twitter’s URLs and 19 percent of theguardian.com. By assessing posts’ unique URLs across multiple platforms and gauging delays in appearance, the team sequenced them, revealing which domains are likely starting points across the three social media platforms.
Regarding mainstream news, the researchers discovered that URLs from nytimes and cnn.com occur most frequently on Reddit. Conversely, URLs from bbc.com and theguardian.com appeared more often on Twitter. While Breitbart.com was linked far more often through Reddit than Twitter or 4chan, contemporary sites like infowars.com and sputniknews.com had URLs originating far more often from Twitter.
Blackburn remarked that social media had become a relevant piece of the information ecosystem and knowledge of how hoaxes, rumors and misinformation spread can be crucial in their detection and mitigation.