Information Systems Frontiers

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1353-1367

First online:

Diffusion of deception in social media: Social contagion effects and its antecedents

  • Arun VishwanathAffiliated withCommunication, Management Science & Systems, SUNY at Buffalo Email author 

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What makes deceptive attacks on social media particularly virulent is the likelihood of a contagion effect, where a perpetrator takes advantage of the connections among people to deceive them. To examine this, the current study experimentally stimulates a phishing type attack, termed as farcing, on Facebook users. Farcing attacks occur in two stages: a first stage where phishers use a phony profile to friend victims, and a second stage, where phishers solicit personal information directly from victims. In the present study, close to one in five respondents fell victim to the first stage attack and one in ten fell victim to the second stage attack. Individuals fell victim to a level 1 attack because they relied primarily on the number of friends or the picture of the requester as a heuristic cue and made snap judgments. Victims also demonstrated a herd mentality, gravitating to a phisher whose page showed more connections. Such profiles caused an upward information cascade, where each victim attracted many more victims through a social contagion effect. Individuals receiving a level 2 information request on Facebook peripherally focused on the source of the request by using the sender’s picture in the message as a credibility cue.


IT diffusion and adoption Social contagion Computer-mediated communication and collaboration Laboratory experiments Social media Online deception Phishing