Disinformation and misinformation have been a growing problem in recent years. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General by the American Psychological Association, the reason why people share fake news is that they want to fit in with their social circles.
Social Pressure and Conformity’s Effects on Misinformation
Lead researcher Matthew Asher Lawson, PhD, an assistant professor of decision sciences at INSEAD, a business school in France, explained that "conformity and social pressure are key motivators of the spread of fake news." If someone in your online community shares fake news, you may feel pressure to share it as well, even if you don't know whether it is true or false.
The research suggests that the proliferation of fake news contributes to increasing political polarization and distrust of democratic institutions. The Brookings Institution reports that fake news does not always spread due to dark motives or a call for action. Researchers began studying the issue after noticing people in their social networks sharing fake news without ideological purpose.
Lawson emphasized that political ideology alone does not explain why people share fake news. There are many factors at play, including the basic desire to fit in, not to be excluded, and the fear of missing out.
Experiments Conducted by the Researchers
One of the experiments conducted by the research team analyzed the tweets and political ideology of more than 50,000 pairs of Twitter users in the U.S. between August and December 2020. The researchers measured the number of tweets shared between pairs of Twitter users in the same social circles. They found that 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 it was stronger for more right-leaning participants.
In another experiment, the researchers 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. They found that Twitter users who had shared fake news were more likely to exclude other users who did not share the same content, suggesting that social pressures may be particularly acute in the fake news proliferation mechanism.
Reducing the Spread of Fake News
Participants in several online experiments indicated a diminished desire to interact with social connections who failed to share the same fake news. Those who were more concerned about the social effects of not fitting in were also more likely to share fake news. While fake news may seem abundant, prior research has found that it only accounts for 0.15% of Americans' daily media consumption, and 1% of individuals are responsible for 80% of fake news sharing.
To reduce the spread of fake news, "pre-bunking" methods that inform people about the ways that misinformation spreads and highlight the importance of the accuracy of news can help. Misbar has published several educational blogs to raise awareness about misinformation and how to avoid it.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General