A new study is shedding light on just how many Americans rely on Facebook as a major source of political news.
The study, authored by R. Kelly Garrett of the Ohio State University's School of Communication, surveyed several hundred people at three points during the 2012 and 2016 election cycles. Both surveys included one round of questioning after the election was over.
The goal of the surveys, which were conducted on a "large, representative, general population sample," was to determine how social media use impacted users' willingness to believe false political information.
In 2012, social media users were asked whether they'd heard and/or believed false narratives about candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Garrett said that, in 2012, people using social media more often tended to be "more likely" to endorse falsehoods about Obama. He said the survey did not produce the same pattern of results in regard to Romney.
In 2016, the survey focused on four statements regarding political policy/positions that were false but commonly circulated on the campaign trail by candidates.
But Garrett said in 2016, Facebook users actually had a tendency to be more accurate in their beliefs than users of other social media platforms.
He noted the Facebook users who believed the falsehoods included in the survey were still a small portion of the whole — ranging from 32% to 14% of users depending on the claim.
"Although there were false claims being shared on Facebook, in general, the false claims were a small number compared to the number of conversations happening about politics," Garrett said via Skype.
He added he was surprised at the number of Facebook users who identified the social media platform as their primary source of online, political news.
"Although there were false claims being shared on Facebook, in general, the false claims were a small number compared to the number of conversations happening about politics." — R. Kelly Garrett, Ohio State University's School of Communication
That number was about 1 in 5 people surveyed compared to roughly 1 in 15 who cited websites such as FOX News and Yahoo News and 1 in 30 who said MSNBC's website is their main source of online, political news.
"We are experiencing some big shifts regarding how people engage with politics," Garrett said.
"Many Americans are bumping into politics in a way they didn't used to because it shows up in their news feed," he added.
Garrett said, while the overall number of social media users who believed the fake/false political narratives they came across online was small, he thinks Americans must remain diligent in how they consume information.
"This doesn't mean we should just sit back and say, 'Nothing to worry about here,' " Garrett said.