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Assessing the Online Distribution of 'Fake News'

The final speaker in this ANZCA 2017 session is Scott Wright, who presents the framework for a new study on 'fake news'. He begins by asking whether there is a 'fake news' problem in Australia: the country is highly politically polarised, with decreasing satisfaction in the conventional party system; online news plays a crucial role in how citizens inform themselves; and the mainstream media system is highly concentrated. In this environment, is there still a functioning marketplace of ideas?

It is necessary, then, to study the nature, virality, and impact of 'fake news', but also the media coverage of such stories, and the interactions between media outlets and other stakeholders around 'fake news'. Further, there is a question of whether and how such 'fake news' impacts on citizens' views of the world. This also requires an identification of genuine 'fake news' stories and sources (and some lists of major offenders are now being collated, but are not undisputed), and a distinction between different types of more or less 'fake' news.

Such stories can then be analysed through content analysis, and a pilot study in the U.S. that drew on stories shared on Twitter examined the extent to which these stories matched any workable definition of 'fake news', and how these stories spread through the network. 5.8% of the links shared were classified as 'fake news', especially towards the end of the presidential election period; many of those links were shared by extremely active 'super-participants', with 15 individuals accounting for 70% of those tweets.