Election research wins award

Happy to share that our work on how social media and fake news topic drives US elections, has just won the Most Promising Research award at the Interactive Marketing Research Conference.

Highlights of the study:

  • The number of fake news shared has quadrupled in the last four years.
  • In the polls, Trump clearly benefits from fake news about “Black Lives Matter” and “COVID-19“.
  • Trump supporters share the “wrong” fake news topics and thus fail to hurt Biden’s election chances.

Five days before the election, the race for the future US president remains open, with many pollsters and observers seeing the Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the lead. The surprising result of the 2016 US election has led to a debate in the media and the public about the influence of fake news and disinformation campaigns in the run-up to the election.

Fake news continues to play an important role in the current election campaign, show researchers from Northeastern University (Boston, MA) and the University of Münster (Germany). Their joint analysis just won the Best Paper Award at the Interactive Marketing Research Conference. Shortly before election day on November 3rd 2020, the team has analyzed around 350 million social media posts from the leading platforms Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They found that the proportion of actively shared fake news has quadrupled since the 2016 election.

While fake news covered only a small number of topics in the 2016 election campaign (mainly Clinton’s e-mail affair and pizzagate), the number of topics in the 2020 election cycle is significantly larger: Using artificial intelligence, the research team analyzed more than 2.4 million fake news links shared by users and identified a total number of 18 topics. The analysis by Professor Raoul Kübler, Professor Koen Pauwels and Kai Manke from Northeastern University (Boston, MA) and the University of Münster (Germany) shows that of the 18 topics, only three (taxes, internal affairs in the White House and the Republican Party) are directed against Donald Trump, while the remaining 15 topics are aimed at harming Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

An econometric analysis shows that fake news regarding “COVID-19” and the “Black Lives Matter” movement are particularly helpful for Trump in the polls. The president’s supporters try to play down the danger of “COVID-19” and praise Trump’s good crisis management. Other posts focus on the alleged relationship between radical left-wing terrorists and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

However, rumors repeatedly circulated by Trump himself that the mail-in voting would lead to more electoral fraud and jeopardize his re-election show no measurable effect on the daily election polls – despite the spread of misinformation on the subject.

Shortly before the election, the international team has registered an increase in fake news about Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his alleged involvement in a Ukrainian corruption scandal. However, this 2020 email leak does not appear to hurt the Democratic candidate’s chances, in sharp contrast to 2016, when it explained a third of the poll gap and was the major driver of Trump’s win. This time around, ‘but his emails’ is unlikely to flip the election.

“We think that this narrative has become such a success story among Trump supporters that they are now focusing on e-mails again while ignoring other issues”, explains Kai Manke from the University of Münster.

Why would ineffective fake news continue to be shared? One reason may be the hope to shake Biden’s strategy. In 2016, Clinton’s campaign ran off-script during the last two weeks before the election when they believed they had to switch course due to the renewed attention Comey’s Letter to Congress brought to the email scandal. In 2020, the Biden campaign appears undeterred and continues to focus on Biden’s strengths against Trump – exactly what brand professionals and marketing professors recommend in our award-winning research on political marketing.

Could Trump still prevail if the focus of fake news changes from emails to COVID-19? “Against the background that the COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and Europe are increasing again, the topic could gain momentum and encourage people to share more fake news on this topic,” explains Professor Kübler from the University of Münster. “Our econometric analysis show that fake news about COVID-19 helps most of all Trump. This could once again significantly influence the race in the final stretch,” Professor Pauwels from Northeastern University concludes.

A summary of the study can be found here: https://analyticdashboards.wordpress.com/2020/10/23/2020-election-impact-of-fake-news

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