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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.

Go deeper

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

Updated 1 min ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.