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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook users engage with content from untrustworthy outlets twice as often today as they did at the time of the 2016 U.S. election, researchers at the German Marshall Fund found, despite the many measures the platform and its competitors have rolled out to combat the spread of misinformation.

How it works: The German Marshall Fund, along with nonpartisan news reliability service NewsGuard and social media intelligence firm NewsWhip, measured the spread of articles from deceptive sites across Facebook in the U.S.-focused study.

  • The researchers broke sites down into two categories — "false content producers" publishing outright false information — and "manipulators," publishing claims that are distorted without reaching the threshold of being provably false.
  • User interactions with both kinds of outlets on Facebook tripled from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2020.
  • "Manipulators" have grown more popular than "false content producers" on Facebook, seeing interactions increase by 293%.
  • Breitbart and The Blaze are two sites the researchers define as "manipulators." The Federalist and DJHJ Media are considered "false content producers."
  • Some left-wing sites also fell into these categories but saw less engagement, the researchers note.

What they're saying: "We expected the really egregious ones, that repeatedly publish verifiably false information, that they would've declined, and the other kind, that exploits the loopholes of the platforms and are sort of misleading, would have increased," the German Marshall Fund's Karen Kornbluh told Axios. "What we found is that they both increased."

  • "It's a difficult problem to solve, especially when it is domestic information, but what it shows is that the whack-a-mole approach of looking at individual pieces of content is a losing game," she said.
  • Kornbluh said platforms should think more about what they choose to allow to be amplified in addition to what they decide to ban.

Why it matters: Social media companies are stuck combatting bad actors online on a case-by-case basis as more non-trustworthy outlets thrive with increased user engagement. For Facebook, that problem has only gotten harder since 2016.

The other side: Facebook spokesman Andy Stone argued that engagement is not the right metric to capture the experience of most users on the company's platform.

  • "Using [engagement] to draw conclusions about the progress we’ve made in limiting misinformation and promoting authoritative sources of information since 2016 is misleading," Stone told Axios. "Over the past four years we've built the largest fact-checking network of any platform, made investments in highlighting original, informative reporting, and changed our products to ensure fewer people see false information and are made aware of it when they do."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

The perils of organizing underground

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Researchers see one bright spot as far-right extremists turn to private and encrypted online platforms: Friction.

Between the lines: For fringe organizers, those platforms may provide more security than open social networks, but they make it harder to recruit new members.

29 mins ago - World

Taiwan leader confirms U.S. troops on island training forces

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei earlier this month. Photo: I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen told CNN Thursday that a small number of American troops are on the island for training purposes and she has "faith" the U.S. would defend the democracy against a Chinese military attack.

Why it matters: This is the first time a Taiwanese leader has publicly acknowledged the presence of U.S. troops on the self-governing island since the last U.S. garrison left in 1979, when Washington switched formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.