- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2017

The “fake news” phenomenon that afflicted last year’s White House race has cross the Atlantic to impact France on the eve of its own presidential election, Oxford researchers said Friday.

One-in-four political stories shared on Twitter during a week in March were deliberately false, according to a report published Friday by the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Researchers announced their findings after reviewing approximately 842,000 tweets involving the forthcoming French election sent during a seven-day span last month, according to their report. Of those that linked to external articles, about one-quarter contained content described in the report as “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial.”

According to the researchers, “highly automated accounts” were responsible for generating “large amounts of traffic,” particularly with respect to content critical of conservative presidential candidate François Fillon, one of the four front-runners poised to potentially win one of two slots in a runoff when the first round of voting takes place Sunday.

In the aftermath of fake news being blamed by some for influencing the outcome of last year’s presidential ace, the researchers acknowledged that social media platforms like Twitter can most certainly be utilized to effect ideological change.

“The combination of automation and propaganda can significantly impact public opinion during important policy debates, elections and political crises,” the researchers wrote.

Compared with Americans, however, researchers said French social media users are significantly less likely to share bogus links.

“In comparison to our study of similar trends in the U.S. and Germany, we find that French users are sharing better quality information than what many U.S. users shared, and almost as much quality news and information as German users share,” the researchers wrote.

In Michigan, for example, the researchers said voters shared practically the same amount of legitimate and bogus articles in the days before President Trump was elected president last November.

“All in all, U.S. voters were sharing very poor quality news and information about major public policy debates at a critical time before a national election,” Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Institute, told Reuters. “Both German and French voters are sharing much smaller amounts of junk news.”

An ongoing FBI investigation concerning last year’s U.S. presidential election has led authorities to consider whether automated “bots” were used to influence the 2016 White House race on social media, McClatchy reported last month.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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