Tackling misinformation on social media: limiting the spread of misleading UK political news online
In recent years, both society and the academy have become increasingly concerned about the proliferation of false and misleading information on social media. Whether it occurs intentionally or accidentally, the spread of such content has frightening real world consequences, permitting warped narratives to influence election outcomes, promote vaccine hesitancy and encourage climate change denialism, to name but a few. In seeking to contribute to burgeoning efforts to limit the impact of online misinformation, this thesis explores how UK social media users might be dissuaded from sharing misleading political news online. It begins by examining the psychological factors that could predispose an individual to believe and/or share false information online, identifying worldview congruence, analytic cognitive style and sharing motivation as central components influencing such sharing behaviour. It then considers how different types of social media warning labels might interact with these variables to reduce propensity to believe and/or share misleading UK political news, including by shifting participants toward a more reflective analytic cognitive style.
These assumptions are accordingly tested via experiments embedded in online surveys, beginning with a small exploratory pilot study (n=94) designed to trial the survey materials and to assess whether reflective thinkers might be less susceptible to believing and sharing misleading political news in the UK context. Analysis of the pilot data reveals that this was generally the case, providing indicative support for a core assumption of the main study. Based on these results, a much larger survey (n=980) tests the effectiveness of four different warning labels at reducing belief in, and likelihood of sharing, misleading UK political news versus a baseline condition featuring the same misleading news without any label. The analysis reveals four major findings: that misleading UK political news content is generally shared by social media users because they believe it; that avenues to successfully reduce such sharing seem to differ depending on the believability of the content in question; that only threatening consequences for sharing misleading information reduces sharing likelihood regardless of content believability and a users’ overall propensity to share news; and that while helpful in aiding users to recognise and reject misleading content, reflective thinking could not be primed by any of the warning labels and instead declined following treatment exposure. These results can inform the development of successful social media interventions intended to limit the spread of misleading content, making a unique contribution to misinformation research by assessing not only the comparative effectiveness of different warning labels, but also under what circumstances, and for which social media users, they proved effective.
Online Civic Culture Centre
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Communication and Media
Rights holder© Rachel Armitage
NotesA Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.
Supervisor(s)Martin Sykora ; Cristian Vaccari ; Cristian Tileaga
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