Fake news about fake news? Study says phony headlines hardly impacted 2016 election

(STUDY FINDS) — HANOVER, N.H. — The year 2015 feels like a lifetime ago for many Americans. It’s hard to even imagine now, but the term “fake news” wasn’t a phrase all that many people were even aware of, let alone using or hearing about on a daily basis just five short years ago. The 2016 U.S. presidential election changed all that, though, and ever since politics have been a polarizing struggle in the United States. But are all the headlines about fake news playing a role in the election really just much ado about nothing?

Regardless of one’s own political beliefs, there’s no getting around the fact that Donald Trump’s victory was a shock to millions that Wednesday morning in 2016. Many believe to this day that calculated and nefarious misinformation campaigns across online outlets and social media platforms greatly contributed to the outcome. Now, researchers from Dartmouth University have come to a conclusion sure to surprise more than a few: fake news didn’t play all that much of a role in the 2016 election.

The team at Dartmouth, in collaboration with researchers from Princeton University and the University of Exeter, tracked visits to untrustworthy and dubious “news” websites during the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the election. They found that less than half of all Americans visited any of these websites during that time period. Furthermore, only 6% of Americans are estimated to have been regularly visiting such sources in 2016.

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