Fake news, Facebook ads, and misperceptions† Assessing information quality in the 2018 U.S. midterm election campaign

Andrew Guess, Jacob M. Montgomery , Benjamin Lyons, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler:

Concern has grown since the 2016 presidential election about the prevalence of misinforma- tion in American politics and the ways social media has potentially exacerbated its reach and influence. In this report, we assess the quality and quantity of information flows during the 2018 midterm election campaign, focusing specifically on two new forms of media — “fake news” and political ads on Facebook. First, we examine visits to fake news websites. We find a substantial decline in the proportion of Americans who visited at least one fake news website in 2018 relative to 2016. However, evidence is mixed on changes in the average share of people’s information diets that comes from fake news websites. Our data also reveal that exposure to political ads on Facebook was limited relative to other types of advertising and concentrated among a subset of targeted users who frequently use Facebook. Finally, we pro- vide new evidence of how frequently Americans believe fake and hyperpartisan news as well as misperceptions promoted by elites that circulated on social media during the campaign.