Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser when it comes to assessing online information. Researchers at Princeton and New York University have found that senior citizens are more likely to share fake news on Facebook than any other age group.
How severe is is it? According to a study published Wednesday in Science Advances, Americans 65 and older share fake news “nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains” as users ages 18 to 29.
The study, which looked at data from more than 8,700 respondents before and after the 2016 presidential election, found that seniors were also more likely to get duped by bogus news domains: Eleven percent of users 65 and older shared at least one fake article, compared to just 3 percent of users ages 18 to 29.
“Our most robust finding is that the oldest Americans, especially those over 65, were more likely to share fake news to their Facebook friends,” the study said. “This is true even when holding other characteristics — including education, ideology, and partisanship — constant. No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more notable.”
The researchers pointed to two likely reasons older Americans are most susceptible to dubious information. The first is Americans in their 60s lack a “level of digital media literacy necessary to reliably determine the trustworthiness of news encountered online,” researchers wrote.
Second, the study suggested that older Americans may be more likely to fall for phony stories due to declines in memory and cognitive skills.
The study also found that 18 percent of Republican respondents shared fake news, compared to about 4 percent of Democrats. The researchers pointed to fake news during 2016 largely centering on then-candidate Donald Trump as a reason for the stark divide.
Perhaps encouragingly, at a time when many people are concerned about the spread of misinformation on social media, the study found sharing fake news was a “relatively rare activity,” with only 8.5 percent of respondents recirculating at least one fake story.