“After previous investigations focusing on responsible journalism in the context of newspapers, the issue of fake news circulated through social media raises far more challenging questions. Because news circulated on social media is intermingled with personal anecdote and feelings, gossip, etc. to a much more extensive degree than in traditional journalistic accounts, it can be difficult to disentangle intentionally falsified information from the casual opinions of acquaintances. The danger of only paying attention to information that already aligns with your personal opinion is particularly acute in a virtual world that has been curated around your interests and friendship networks.
“This phenomenon raises fundamental questions about the weight we give to credible evidence when compared to our personal view of the world. Social science has demonstrated since at least the 1950s that personal opinion and the views of friends and family are likely to overcome contrary evidence presented by credible external sources such as responsible journalism.
“As an American, I have family members living in the United States who believed fake news stories, about Hillary Clinton’s health for example, which helped to sway their votes in favour of Donald Trump. The recently published study by Gentzkow and Allcott on the US election risks undercounting the impact of fake news by only counting the direct line from a social media fake news story to an individual reader, and by relying on people self-reporting that they have been influenced long after they read the fake news article. The methods used to evaluate effects in this study are highly limited and likely to be biased in the direction of undercounting impact.”
Dr Eric Jenson
Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
Andrea Cullis: Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick
Tel: 02476 528050
Mob: 07825 314874
E: a dot cullis at warwick dot ac dot uk