WASHINGTON — Shar­ing false information on Facebook is old.

People over 65 and ultra conservatives shared about seven times more fake in­for­mation mas­quer­a­ding as news on the social media site than younger adults, moderates and super liberals during the 2016 election season, a new study finds.

The first major study to look at who is sharing links from debunked sites finds that not many people are doing it. On average only 8.5% of those studied — about 1 person out of 12 — shared false information dur­ing the 2016 campaign, ac­cord­ing to the study in Wednesday’s journal Sci­ence Advances. But those doing it tend to be older and more conservative.

“For something to be viral you’ve got to know who shares it,” said study co-author Jonathan Nag­ler, a politics professor and co-director of the So­cial Media and Political Par­ti­ci­pa­tion Lab at New York University.  “Wow, old peop­le are much more like­ly than young people to do this.”

Facebook and other so­cial media companies were caught off guard in 2016 when Russian agents ex­ploit­ed their platforms to meddle with the U.S. pres­i­dential election by spread­ing fake news, im­per­son­ating Americans and running targeted ad­ver­tisem­ents to try to sway votes. Since then, the com­panies have thrown mil­lions of dollars and thous­ands of people into fighting false information.

Researchers at Prince­ton University and NYU in 2016 interviewed 2,711 people who used Facebook. Of those, nearly half agreed to share all their postings with the professors.

The researchers used three different lists of false in­formation sites — one com­piled by BuzzFeed and two others from academic research teams — and count­ed how often people shared from those sites. Then to double check, they looked at 897 specific ar­tic­les that had been found false by fact checkers and saw how often those were spread.

All those lists showed similar trends.

When other demographic factors and overall posting tendencies are factored in, the average person older than 65 shared seven times more false information than those between 18 and 29. The seniors shared more than twice as many fake stories as people be­tween 45 and 64 and more than three times that of people in the 30- to 44-year-old range, said lead study author Andrew Guess, a politics professor at Princeton.

The simplest theory for why older people share more false information is a lack of “digital literacy,” said study co-author Josh­ua Tucker, also co-director of the NYU social media po­lit­ical lab.

Harvard public policy and communication pro­fes­sor Matthew Baum, who was not part of the study but praised it, said he thinks sharing false in­for­ma­tion is “less about be­liefs in the facts of a story than about signaling one’s par­tis­an identity.” That’s why efforts to correct fak­ery don’t really change at­titudes and one reason why few people share false in­for­mation, he said.

When other dem­o­graph­ics and posting practices are factored in, people who called themselves very con­ser­vative shared the most false information, a bit more than those who iden­tify themselves as con­ser­vative. The very con­ser­vatives shared mis­in­for­ma­tion 6.8 times more often than the very liberals and 6.7 times more than mod­er­ates. People who called themselves liberals es­sen­tially shared no fake stories, Guess said.

Nagler said he was not sur­prised that con­ser­va­tives in 2016 shared more fake information, but he and his colleagues said that does not necessarily mean that conservatives are by nature more gullible when it comes to false sto­ries. It could simply reflect that there was much more pro-Trump and anti-Clin­ton false information in cir­culation in 2016 that it drove the numbers for shar­ing, they said.

However, Baum said in an email that conservatives post more false information because they tend to be more extreme, with less ide­o­logical variation than their liberal counterparts and they take their lead from President Trump, who “advocates, supports, shares and produces fake news/misinformation on a regular basis.”

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