We were able to obtain private Facebook profile data from a substantial subset of our survey respondents. Starting 16 November 2016, YouGov e-mailed all respondents with a request to temporarily share information from their Facebook profiles with us. That request read, in part: “We are interested in the news people have read and shared on Facebook this year. To save time and to get the most accurate information, with your permission we can learn this directly from Facebook. Facebook has agreed to help this way. Of course, we would keep this information confidential, just like everything else you tell us.”

Those who consented to do so were asked to provide access to a Facebook web application and to specifically check which types of information they were willing to share with us: fields from their public profile, including religious and political views; their own timeline posts, including external links; and “likes” of pages. We did not have access to the content of people’s News Feeds or information about their friends. Respondents read a privacy statement that informed them that they could deactivate the application at any time and that we would not share any personally identifying information. The app provided access for up to 2 months after respondents who chose to share data agreed to do so. This data collection was approved by the New York University Institutional Review Board (IRB-12-9058 and IRB-FY2017–150).

Of 3500 initial respondents in wave 1, 1331 (38%) agreed to share Facebook profile data with us. The proportion rises (49.1%) when we consider that only 2711 of our respondents said that they use Facebook at all. We were successfully able to link profile data from 1191 of survey respondents, leaving us with approximately 44% of Facebook users in our sample. (See the “Sample details” section for a comparison of sample characteristics on various demographic and behavioral dimensions. Linked respondents were somewhat more knowledgeable and engaged in politics than those who did not share data.) For the purposes of this analysis, we parsed the raw Facebook profile data and identified the domains of any links posted by respondents to their own timelines.

We did not have access to posts that respondents deleted before consenting to temporarily share their data with us. It is theoretically possible that some respondents posted fake news articles to their profiles and then deleted them before we had the opportunity to collect the data. To the extent that this activity reflects second-guessing or awareness of how fake news posting is perceived by social connections, we interpret the sharing data that we were able to gather as genuine—posts that our respondents did not feel compelled to remove at a later time. There may be an additional concern that some types of people were more likely to delete fake news articles that they posted, leading us to biased inferences. However, to the extent that these characteristics are negatively correlated with the characteristics that predict posting in the first place, such deletion activity (which is likely very rare) should reduce noise in the data that would otherwise be generated by split-second sharing decisions that are immediately retracted.

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