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Americans share fake news to fit in with social circles

  • Journalism and Facts
  • Social Media and Internet
  • Politics

Fear of exclusion contributes to spread of fake news, research finds

Read the journal article

  • Tribalism and Tribulations (PDF, 495KB)

WASHINGTON — Both conservative and liberal Americans share fake news because they don’t want to be ostracized from their social circles, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Conformity and social pressure are key motivators of the spread of fake news,” said lead researcher Matthew Asher Lawson, PhD, an assistant professor of decision sciences at INSEAD, a business school in France. “If someone in your online tribe is sharing fake news, then you feel pressure to share it as well, even if you don’t know whether it’s false or true.”

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The proliferation of fake news contributes to increasing political polarization and distrust of democratic institutions, according to the Brookings Institution. But fake news doesn’t always proliferate due to dark motives or a call for action. The researchers began studying the issue after noticing people in their own social networks sharing fake news seemingly without malicious intent or ideological purpose.

“Political ideology alone doesn’t explain people’s tendency to share fake news within their social groups,” Lawson said. “There are many factors at play, including the very basic desire to fit in and not to be excluded.”

One experiment analyzed the tweets and political ideology of more than 50,000 pairs of Twitter users in the U.S., including tweets sharing fake or hyper-partisan news between August and December 2020. (Political ideology was determined through a network-based algorithm that imputes ideology by looking at the types of accounts Twitter users follow.) The number of tweets between pairs of Twitter users in the same social circles were measured. Twitter users were less likely to interact with each other over time if one of them shared a fake news story and the other did not share that same story. The same effect was found regardless of political ideology but was stronger for more right-leaning participants.

A second experiment analyzed 10,000 Twitter users who had shared fake news in the prior test, along with another group that was representative of Twitter users in general. Twitter users who had shared fake news were more likely to exclude other users who didn’t share the same content, suggesting that social pressures may be particularly acute in the fake news ecosystem.

Across several additional online experiments, participants indicated a reduced desire to interact with social connections who failed to share the same fake news. Participants who were more concerned about the social costs of not fitting in were also more likely to share fake news.

While fake news may seem prolific, prior research has found that fake news only accounts for 0.15% of Americans’ daily media consumption, and 1% of individuals are responsible for 80% of fake news sharing. Other research found that election-related misinformation on Twitter decreased by 73% after Donald Trump was banned from the platform.

Many complex factors contribute to people’s decisions to share fake news so reducing its spread is difficult, and the role of social media companies isn’t always clear, Lawson said.

“Pre-bunking” methods that inform people about the ways that misinformation spreads and highlighting the importance of the accuracy of news can help reduce the spread of fake news. However, finding ways to ease the social pressure to conform in online spaces may be needed to start winning the war on misinformation, Lawson said.

Article: “Tribalism and Tribulations: The Social Costs of Not Sharing Fake News,” Matthew Asher Lawson, PhD, INSEAD, Shikhar Anand, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, and Hemant Kakkar, PhD, Duke University, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published online March 9, 2023.

Americans share fake news to fit in with social circles

  • Journalism and Facts
  • Social Media and Internet
  • Politics

Fear of exclusion contributes to spread of fake news, research finds

Read the journal article

  • Tribalism and Tribulations (PDF, 495KB)

WASHINGTON — Both conservative and liberal Americans share fake news because they don’t want to be ostracized from their social circles, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Conformity and social pressure are key motivators of the spread of fake news,” said lead researcher Matthew Asher Lawson, PhD, an assistant professor of decision sciences at INSEAD, a business school in France. “If someone in your online tribe is sharing fake news, then you feel pressure to share it as well, even if you don’t know whether it’s false or true.”

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The proliferation of fake news contributes to increasing political polarization and distrust of democratic institutions, according to the Brookings Institution. But fake news doesn’t always proliferate due to dark motives or a call for action. The researchers began studying the issue after noticing people in their own social networks sharing fake news seemingly without malicious intent or ideological purpose.

“Political ideology alone doesn’t explain people’s tendency to share fake news within their social groups,” Lawson said. “There are many factors at play, including the very basic desire to fit in and not to be excluded.”

One experiment analyzed the tweets and political ideology of more than 50,000 pairs of Twitter users in the U.S., including tweets sharing fake or hyper-partisan news between August and December 2020. (Political ideology was determined through a network-based algorithm that imputes ideology by looking at the types of accounts Twitter users follow.) The number of tweets between pairs of Twitter users in the same social circles were measured. Twitter users were less likely to interact with each other over time if one of them shared a fake news story and the other did not share that same story. The same effect was found regardless of political ideology but was stronger for more right-leaning participants.

A second experiment analyzed 10,000 Twitter users who had shared fake news in the prior test, along with another group that was representative of Twitter users in general. Twitter users who had shared fake news were more likely to exclude other users who didn’t share the same content, suggesting that social pressures may be particularly acute in the fake news ecosystem.

Across several additional online experiments, participants indicated a reduced desire to interact with social connections who failed to share the same fake news. Participants who were more concerned about the social costs of not fitting in were also more likely to share fake news.

While fake news may seem prolific, prior research has found that fake news only accounts for 0.15% of Americans’ daily media consumption, and 1% of individuals are responsible for 80% of fake news sharing. Other research found that election-related misinformation on Twitter decreased by 73% after Donald Trump was banned from the platform.

Many complex factors contribute to people’s decisions to share fake news so reducing its spread is difficult, and the role of social media companies isn’t always clear, Lawson said.

“Pre-bunking” methods that inform people about the ways that misinformation spreads and highlighting the importance of the accuracy of news can help reduce the spread of fake news. However, finding ways to ease the social pressure to conform in online spaces may be needed to start winning the war on misinformation, Lawson said.

Article: “Tribalism and Tribulations: The Social Costs of Not Sharing Fake News,” Matthew Asher Lawson, PhD, INSEAD, Shikhar Anand, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, and Hemant Kakkar, PhD, Duke University, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published online March 9, 2023.

A College Degree is Nearly a Necessity

Your education is the single greatest gift you can give yourself. While there are educational opportunities all around us, some of them come at a greater cost than others. A college education might require a hefty investment of time and money upfront but the pay off is much better over time than if you used your life experiences in order to achieve the same level of education that you can pack into 2, 4, or 5 years of an undergraduate education on the college level.

In other words, over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to pay far less for your college education than you would pay (in earning potential) for not having a college education. At the same time, each level of college education you receive increases your overall earning potential. This means that a one-year degree in a technical field will provide a modest boost from a high school diploma when it comes to earning potential but an associate’s degree will provide an even better boost. You will see an even more significant improvement in earning potential when you increase from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree. The vast majority of students enter the workforce upon completion of a bachelor’s degree. Those students, however, who remain in school for graduate studies often, find that a master’s degree even further improves their lifetime earning potentials.

The problem for most when it comes to making the jump between degrees and educational levels is cost. There are times in life when we simply need to get out of school and get to work. The good news is that it is gradually becoming easier for those with careers to further their education without sacrificing either their careers or their family during the process. Of course, there will be some sacrifices along the way but it isn’t an all at once or nothing endeavor. You can work towards your degree by taking online classes, night classes, and Saturday classes. The information age has made it easier than ever before to achieve the educational goals you need to meet in order to satisfy your dreams for the future.

Your level of education will get your foot in the door when it comes to certain jobs and your lack of education will limit you far more than a lack of experience will limit you in many cases. As time grows on, more and more companies are seeking employees that have degrees rather than those who have experience in the field. If you hope to remain competitive in the business world you need to arm yourself with the proper education. Check with your company to see if they offer any sort of incentives for employees continuing their education. You might be surprised to find that your company offers to match your tuition funds or even completely reimburse them if you are working towards a degree that will assist you in your job functions.

There is no wrong reason to get an education. Even if you are applying for a job that won’t use your specific degree, you might find that having a degree at all gives you a boost over other applicants for the same position. A college degree is becoming more and more necessary in today’s business climate. You need to take every opportunity that is available to you in order to get your college degree.