What to Believe? Social Media Commentary and Belief in Misinformation
Americans are increasingly turning to social media for political information. However, given that the average social media user only clicks through on a small fraction of the political content available, the brief article previews that appear in the News Feed likely serve as shortcuts to political information. Yet, in addition to sharing political news, social media also allow users to make their own comments on news posts, comments which may challenge or distort the information contained in the articles. In this paper, we first analyze how social media posts on Twitter and Facebook differ from the actual content of their linked news articles, finding that social media comments regularly misrepresent the facts reported in the news. We then use a survey experiment to test the consequences of these information discrepancies. Specifically, we randomly assign individuals to read a full news article, a news article preview post (as seen on Facebook), or a news article preview with misinformative social commentary attached. We find that individuals in the social commentary conditions are more misinformed about the featured topic, tending to report the factually-incorrect information relayed in the comments rather than the factually-correct information embedded within the article preview.
KeywordsSocial media Misinformation Motivated reasoning Opinion leadership Political communication
- American Press Institute. (2014). The personal news cycle. Media Insight Project. Retrieved March 17, 2014, from https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/how-americans-get-news/.
- Anspach, N. M., Jennings, J. T., & Arceneaux, K. (2018). A little bit of knowledge: Facebook’s News Feed and self-perceptions of knowledge. In Presented at the 2017 midwest political science association conference.Google Scholar
- Barthel, M., Mitchell, A., & Holcomb, J. (2016). Many Americans believe fake news is sowing confusion. Pew Research Center. Retrieved December 15, 2016, from http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/.
- Bernstein, M.S., Bakshy, E., Burke, M., & Karrer, B. (2013). Quantifying the invisible audience in social networks. In CHI’13 (pp. 21–30).Google Scholar
- Bialik, K., & Matsa, K. E. (2017). Key trends in social and digital news media. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 4, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/10/04/key-trends-in-social-and-digital-news-media/.
- Chaiken, S. (1987). The heuristic model of persuasion. In M. P. Zanna, J. M. Olsen, & C. P. Herman (Eds.), Social influence: The Ontario symposium (Vol. 5, pp. 3–39). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Conover, M., Ratkiewicz, J., Francisco, M. R., Goncalves, B., Menczer, F., & Flammini, A. (2011). Political polarization on Twitter. ICWSM, 133, 89–96.Google Scholar
- Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
- Eyster, E., & Rabin, M. (2010). Naïve herding in rich-information settings. American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 2(4), 221–243.Google Scholar
- Gallup, Inc., and the Knight Foundation. (2018). American views: Trust, media, and democracy. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from https://kf-site-production.s3.amazonaws.com/publications/pdfs/000/000/242/original/KnightFoundation_AmericansViews_Client_Report_010917_Final_Updated.pdf.
- Hochschild, J. L. (2001). Where you stand depends on what you see: Connections among values, perceptions of fact, and political prescriptions. In James Kuklinski (Ed.), Citizens and politics: Perspectives from political psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Karnowski, V., Kumpel, A. S., Leonhard, L., & Leiner, D. J. (2017). From incidental news exposure to news engagement. How perceptions of the news post and news usage patterns influence engagement with news articles encountered on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 76, 42–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1955). Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communications. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Lupia, A., & McCubbins, M. D. (1998). The democratic dilemma: Can citizens learn what they need to know?. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Maio, G. R., & Esses, V. M. (2001). The need for affect: individual differences in the motivation to approach or avoid emotions. Journal of Psychology, 69(4), 583–614.Google Scholar
- Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Shearer, E. (2016). The modern news consumer: News attitudes and practices in the digital era. Pew Research Center. Retrieved July 7, 2016, from, http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/the-modern-news-consumer/.
- Muirhead, R. (2013). The case for party loyalty. Nomos, 54, 229–256.Google Scholar
- Paolacci, G., Chandler, J., & Ipeirotis, P. G. (2010). Running experiments on Amazon mechanical turk. Judgment and Decision Making, 5(5), 411–419.Google Scholar
- Petty, R., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1981). Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches. Dubueque: William C. Brown.Google Scholar
- Popkin, S. L. (1994). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Shearer, E., & Gottfried, J. (2017). News use across social media platforms 2017. Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media. Retrieved September 7, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/.
- Sides, J., & Vavreck, L. (2012). The gamble: The hand you’re dealt with. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Sundar, S. S. (2008). The MAIN model: A heuristic approach to understanding technology effects on credibility. In M. Metzger & A. Flanagin (Eds.), Digital media, youth, and credibility (pp. 73–100). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Weeks, B. E., Ardèvol-Abreu, A., & de Zúñiga, H. G. (2017). Online influence? Social media use, opinion leadership, and political persuasion. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 29(2), 214–239.Google Scholar