May 25, 2022

Research Article: “‘Fake News’ Audience Among the Heaviest Internet Users, Study Finds”

From Northwestern University:

A new Northwestern University study has found that consumers of “fake news” spend more time online than the real news audience. The study also found that fake news consumers do not silo themselves in an echo chamber, but instead consume real news as well.

By observing online audience data in the months leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election, the researchers found that the online fake news audience comprises a small disloyal group of heavy Internet users, while the real news audience commands a majority of the total Internet audience.

“In light of our findings, we argue that the current news crisis may be less about an abundance of fake news than a lack of trust when it comes to real news,” said Jacob Nelson, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Communication’s Media, Technology and Society and the lead author of the study.


Key Findings:

  • The fake news audience comprised visitors who, in general, spent more than twice the time online as the real news audience.
  • The audience size for an average real news sites was about 28 million unique visitors, while the audience size for an average fake news site was about 675,000.
  • Online audiences spent about 9 minutes per month with an average real news site, while they only spent about half of that with an average fake news site.
  • Visits to fake news sites originated from Facebook at much higher rate than visits to real news sites.
    Contrary to popular belief, the fake news audience also exposes itself to real news.

Note: From April 13, 2018-May 13, 2018 the full text research article discussed above is available to infoDOCKET readers (no charge) via SAGE using the link below. We thank them.


The Small, Disloyal Fake News Audience: The Role of Audience Availability in Fake News Consumption


Jacob L Nelson
Northwestern University

Harsh Taneja
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


New Media & Society
DOI: 10.1177/1461444818758715


In light of the recent US election, many fear that “fake news” has become a force of enormous reach and influence within the news media environment. We draw on well-established theories of audience behavior to argue that the online fake news audience, like most niche content, would be a small subset of the total news audience, especially those with high availability. By examining online visitation data across mobile and desktop platforms in the months leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election, we indeed find the fake news audience comprises a small, disloyal group of heavy Internet users. We also find that social network sites play an outsized role in generating traffic to fake news. With this revised understanding, we revisit the democratic implications of the fake news crisis.

Direct to Full Text Article

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.