What Makes People Share Misinformation on Social Media?

We need to understand how lies spread in order to secure the truth.

Grant H Brenner

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Pruductora Mindtrack/Pexels

Misinformation is like a disease. Understanding how it spreads is key for stopping it. Given the information environment we are in, getting a handle on what is true and what is misleading is not just a question of integrity and morality but a matter of survival. Disinformation kills people.

Poor quality information short-circuits wise decision-making, leading to the spread of preventable diseases, undermining public health initiatives, and delaying or obstructing us from recognizing and responding to escalating threats, including climate change, COVID 19, human migration, and many others.

People tend to “ believe lies despite the obvious truth” if something seems like it might be true (the “gist” versus “verbatim” truth), and is aligned with their values and wishes. Moreover, they are also likely to share it without pause. However, research is less clear about what individual factors come into play when people decide whether to engage with or share potentially misleading posts on social media.

Studying Drivers of Disinformation

To understand the drivers of disinformation, Morosoli and colleagues conducted research published in the journal American Behavioral Scientist (2022). They looked at sociodemographic factors including gender, age, and educational level; permissive factors such as social media behavior including, political beliefs, consistency with one’s own attitudes on a given subject (“attitudinal congruence,” e.g. if I believe climate change is a hoax, and I see news in line with that idea, there is greater congruence), the importance of the issue at hand (“issue salience”), along with relevant personality traits, specifically the dark triad of narcissism, sociopathy and Machiavellianism.

Researchers surveyed over 7,000 people in six different countries, all Western democracies (Switzerland, Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, and the USA). They focused on information about climate change…

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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer