Dec 22, 2020 - Economy

"Unreliable" news sources got more traction in 2020

Data: NewsGuard; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Unreliable news websites significantly increased their share of engagement among the top performing news sources on social media this year, according to a new analysis from NewsGuard provided to Axios.

Why it matters: Quality filters from Big Tech platforms didn’t stop inflammatory headlines from gaining lots of traction, especially from fringe-right sources.

By the numbers: In 2020, nearly one-fifth (17%) of engagement among the top 100 news sources on social media came from sources that NewsGuard deems generally unreliable, compared to about 8% in 2019.

  • NewsGuard found that its top rated "unreliable" site, The Daily Wire, saw 2.5 times as many interactions in 2020 as 2019.
  • Bongino.com increased engagement by more than 1700% this year.

How it works: NewsGuard uses trained journalists to rate thousands of news and information websites. It uses a long list of criteria, like whether the news site discloses its funding or repeatedly publishes content deemed false by fact-checkers, to determine whether sites are credible or unreliable.

The big picture: Engagement from the top 100 U.S. news sources on social media nearly doubled from the first eleven months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2020, the study found.

  • That's not surprising given the major events swallowing the news cycle this year, including the election, COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests.
  • But the report, which was created using data from social intelligence company NewsWhip, shows that low-quality news sources tend to flourish amid lots of breaking news cycles, where a lack of certainty can be exploited.

Flashback: Earlier this year, an investigation from NewsGuard found that the vast majority of Facebook groups that were "super-spreaders" of election-related misinformation were affiliated with right-wing movements, including pages like Gateway Pundit, Viral Patriot and MAGA Revolution.

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