The study, published this week by activist group Avaaz, also casts doubts on claims made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the social network is working to rid itself of deceptive information parading as real news. Now that Facebook has cemented itself as a leading source of news for millions of Americans, we should all worry.
False news reports attacking U.S. politicians have been seen almost 160 million times this year on the social network, Avaaz said in the analysis. Aside from the president, former president Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, presidential candidate Joe Biden, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar were featured in some of the most widely viewed fake stories, according to Avaaz.
Sixty-two percent of the deceptive stories focused on either Democratic politicians or left-wing issues.
For example, a report falsely claiming that Pelosi had diverted $2.4 billion from Social Security into the impeachment investigation of Trump racked up almost 25 million views.
Twenty-nine percent of false news reports were aimed at Republicans and right-wing causes, with Trump as a key target. The fake story about his father and grandfather was viewed more than 29 million times.
Facebook users shared the stories, which mostly emanated from partisan websites claiming to be legitimate media outlets, with their friends and followers. That triggered a viral wave of misinformation has proven difficult to curtail.
Facebook said it has worked to eliminate fake news in the past few years.
"Multiple independent studies have found we’ve cut the amount of fake news on Facebook by more than half since the 2016 election," a Facebook company spokesperson told Publishing Insider. "That still means plenty of people see fake news, which is why we now have more visible warning labels flagging this type of content, and prominent notifications when someone tries to share it or already has.”
The quandary for Facebook is trying to respect people's rights to free speech, while also stopping the spread of false information, which will require more advanced screening of posts that people share on its platform.
The company could take a hands-off approach, but risks turning its platform into a hellscape of toxic user-generated content that will scare off advertisers.
The following list shows the top five fake news items ranked by Avaaz's estimates of views: