Study Shows Trump Supporters Heavy Reliance on Conspiracy Theory Sites in 2016

Conspiracy theorist Jones hemmed and hawed Sunday, June 18, when pressed repeatedly by Megyn Kelly to admit he was wrong to call the massacre at Newton, Conn., a hoax. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

It’s hardly shocking that an extensive study of which news sites both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters linked to on social media during the 2016 campaign would show Trump’s backers to have an affinity for hoax and conspiracy theory sites.

The study from Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society included 4.5 million tweets from users who also either retweeted Trump or Clinton. It then analyzed the linked URLs shared on their Twitter feeds and this was the result.

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Gateway Pundit, Conservative Treehouse, Truthfeed, and Infowars are all in the top 15 of shared sites of users who supported Donald Trump.

As The Washington Post points out,

Fourth on the list of most-shared sources among Trump supporters on Twitter was Gateway Pundit, a site especially notorious for trafficking in hoaxes and falsehoods. No. 13 on the list was InfoWars, Alex Jones’s conspiracy theory website, which is infamous for suggesting the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, among many other things.

Also ranking in the top 15 were two other highly suspect sources of news, the Conservative Treehouse and Truthfeed. (For examples of what these sites purvey, click here and here.)

Unsurprisingly, RedState was not in the top sites shared by Trump supporters. It is worth noting, however, that mainstream conservative leaning news sources, such as the Washington Free Beacon, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times were lower on the list than one would expect.

Clinton supporters weren’t immune to clickbait either, the study found.

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The study’s authors put it this way:

While we observe highly partisan and clickbait news sites on both sides of the partisan divide, especially on Facebook, on the right these sites received amplification and legitimation through an attention backbone that tied the most extreme conspiracy sites like Truthfeed, Infowars, through the likes of Gateway Pundit and Conservative Treehouse, to bridging sites like the Daily Caller and Breitbart that legitimated and normalized the paranoid style that came to typify the right-wing ecosystem in the 2016 election. This attention backbone relied heavily on social media.

As Trump made waves pushing the Obama birther conspiracy theory it makes sense his ardent backers would be attracted to sites like Infowars and Gateway Pundit, of which the Trump administration further legitimized by granting them White House press credentials.