Skewed reality: Fake news twice as influential as fact-checking sites, CU study finds

Chris Vargo (Courtesy Photo/University of Colorado)

To the detriment of reality and facts, fake news outlets had around twice as much influence on the media landscape as fact-checking websites from 2014 to 2016, according to a new study co-authored by a University of Colorado researcher.

Fake news websites — sites that look credible but are not actually real media organizations, according to assistant professor Chris Vargo of CU’s College of Media, Communication and Information — outpaced fact-checking sites like Politifact and Snopes, both in terms of articles produced each month and their influence on the broader media agenda during the study’s two-year timeline.

Vargo attributed part of the phenomenon to the vast sea of choices available to news consumers — some credible, some posing as such, and some wading in the middle. He reflected on decades past, when people only had a few choices when it came to news: a couple of television stations, a local and national newspaper, and a magazine or two.

“Now in 2017, media has exploded,” Vargo said. “Consumers have choice, and that’s a good thing because they can pick media they’re interested in and get more news than ever before. But the downside is there’s never been such little control over things like facts.”

In addition to the fact-checking websites getting outpaced, traditional media outlets — which Vargo listed as options like the Washington Post, local television stations and local newspapers — felt increasing pressure to respond to fake news articles and refute false claims, directing and diverting attention to and from issues.

“In this way, fake news had the ability to keep things that they want in the…

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