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What is the meaning of the bold sentence? It seems to me that something is wrong with the sentence grammatically. Specially, is the part "which meant ..." grammatically flawed?

Last year's US election has been seen as providing a fertile breeding ground for fake news. Some credit Donald Trump's anti-establishment rhetoric and distrust of the mainstream media. Others blame widening partisanship, which meant readers were more prone to believe and share stories that fit their beliefs.

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Sometimes the verb to mean is used as a synonym for "to have the effect, to cause ..."

Several more unexpected guests arrived, which meant we had to bring out some more sandwiches.

That sentence could also be stated with "that":

Several more unexpected guests arrived, which meant that we had to bring out some more sandwiches.

That is, several more unexpected guests arrived, which had the effect of us having to bring out more sandwiches.

which refers to the stated fact that there were several more unexpected guests.

So, to apply that to your sentence

... widening partisanship, which had the effect of making readers more likely to believe stories that maligned people who belonged to the opposition party, or to believe stories that reinforced reader biases.

The idea behind partisanship is that people are "on different sides" of an issue. There is a gulf between them. "Widening" partisanship suggests that this gulf is getting wider, that is, the sides are moving away from each other.

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The sentence is fine. It is saying that the increasing tendency of American voters to cling to one or other political creed is blamed for leading people to accept and promote reports that supported their outlook.

That's to say:

Widening partisanship has been blamed for making people more likely to believe and share stories that fit their beliefs.

The background is the tendency of social media to feed their users material that they like. What readers dislike they label as spam. What they like they share. It doesn't take long for the social media controllers and their advertisers to catch on and exploit this tendency.

Partisan: an adherent or supporter of a person, group, party, or cause, especially a person who shows a biased, emotional allegiance. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/partisan

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  • So how to understand "widening partnership"? Is "widening" an adjective for "partnership" or it means "to widen"?
    – Sasan
    Apr 23 '18 at 11:14
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    @user157323 Note that the reference is to a widening partisanship not partnership. That's to say that the gap is widening (growing) between those who are left-leaning and those who incline towards rightwing views. People's outlooks are moving from the moderate "centre" towards the two wings - which makes it much harder for them to understand different views or reach compromises . Apr 23 '18 at 11:26
  • And what is the subject for "meant" in "which meant"? shouldn't it be "means"?
    – Sasan
    Apr 23 '18 at 11:33
  • @user157323 Which acts here as a pronoun for Others blame widening partisanship. Which could be replaced by this. The whole sentence refers back to the US election, which took place in 2016. So the writer uses the past tense meant to refer back to the effect this phenomenon had on the outcome. See: partofspeech.org/what-part-of-speech-is-which Apr 23 '18 at 13:03

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