This study, which aimed to better understand the types of information sources that users on one popular social media platform may see about a major national policy issue, finds that news organizations play a far larger role than other types of content providers, such as commentary or government sites. During the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, roughly four-in-ten of the 1,030 most linked-to sites in immigration-related tweets (42%) were outlets that purport to do original reporting – what the study refers to as the News Organizations category. And the prominent role these sites played becomes even greater when looking at the frequency with which they were shared: Fully 75% of the tweets during this time period linked to News Organizations.
The study also finds little clear evidence that “fake news” sites were a major factor in the information stream on Twitter around immigration. Overall, just 2% of the sites catalogued in the study appeared on at least one of three external lists of “fake news” sites, and the vast majority of sites classified as News Organizations were established at least a year before the 2016 election, suggesting they were not created solely for influence during the election.
While the study does not directly address the broader question of 'fake news' entities’ influence on the public, or examine who is sharing what types of sites, it does shed light on the degree to which consumers are exposed to different types of information providers on a policy issue debated in the news.
The focus of this analysis is tweets about immigration, a subject chosen because of its key role in news during the first month of Trump’s presidency. Between Jan. 25-27, 2017, Trump signed a series of executive orders that altered federal rules around immigration. Most notably, this included the executive order that restricted entry to the U.S. by people from certain countries. In the following days, protests erupted across the country, particularly at airports where the status of some international travelers subject to the executive order was unclear. A few weeks later, on Feb. 9, 2017, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of this executive order. A revised version of the administration’s immigration order is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Researchers found that this topic received considerable attention on Twitter – more than 20 million tweets that matched immigration-related keywords were posted from Jan. 20-Feb. 20, 2017, the first month of the Trump presidency; 11.5 million of these tweets had links to external sources and were the focus of this analysis.