Why do people believe fake news on Facebook?
MANILA, Philippines – For many, Facebook is an informal place to share news and information that interests them. When people share fake news – satirical articles from SoWhatsNews and The Onion or ill-researched propaganda, among others – a significant number of people still buy into it and believe it instantly.
If you have been duped by fake news, or know people who buy into fake news easily, there's some scientific reasoning explaining why some people fall for fake news. (READ: Why can’t many Filipinos tell truth from satire?)
Researchers at Northeastern University’s Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Socio-Technical Systems released a study that attempts to explain why some people more readily believe fake news.
The study, titled "Collective attention in the age of (mis)information," notes that people who believe fake news also tend to be those who mistrust mainstream media and who put more stock into a conspiracy theory.
The study analyzed Facebook use among 2.3 million Italians leading up to the 2013 elections. Researchers categorized Facebook pages into three subsets: alternative information sources, which include topics neglected by science and mainstream media; online political activism; and mainstream media. While people seemed to visit the three kinds of sites equally, the research pointed to a stronger connection between those who went to political activism pages and alternative news sources.
The researchers tested this by throwing 2,788 completely false posts at 1,279 users and gauged their responses. One of the popular posts – shared nearly 35,000 times in less than a month – discussed the passsage of a fake law, made by a politician who did not exist and with a number of votes for and against the law that couldn't be possible.
The fake law, which allocated 134 billion euros to funding job placement for policymakers who might lose their job in the election, also tacked on a startling amount of money to the news item, as 134 billion euros is more than 10% of Italy's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
As page 8 of their study notes, their results show that "users with strong preferences for alternative information sources, perhaps motivated by the will to avoid the manipulation played by mainstream media controlled by the government, are more susceptible to false information."
While this is tempered somewhat by the use of a particular regional subset of the world, which may have different values from other world cultures, the research does offer a glimpse into why people believe things on Facebook. (READ: I hate Facebook, but...)
Their study's conclusion also raised a warning, with the researchers saying that "the higher the number of circulating unsubstantiated claims is, the more users will be biased in selecting contents." The more fake news goes online, the greater the bias people have towards picking and choosing what they want to think is true. – Rappler.com