Tracking the Spread of Political (Mis)Information Through Social Networks
27 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 26 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2010
How are political knowledge and beliefs transmitted through social groups? We seek to demonstrate, through a variety of new experimental designs, that individuals change their responses to questions addressing their political knowledge when the responses of members of their social network are displayed. Further, we will investigate the effects of "social distance" (how well you know someone) and identity (whether conflicting information is seen as coming from known or anonymous individuals) on subjects' propensity to change their responses. Each experiment will consist of a pre- and post-test that will assess the respondents' factual knowledge about politics in addition to a battery of control questions. On the post-test, we will vary the information subjects receive about the answers provided on the pre-test by members of their social network. We hypothesize that subjects will amend their answers to conform to the answers provided by members of their social network. The variables of interest for our study will be the factors that moderate the propensity of a subject to adopt others' answers. We operationalize our main concept of interest within each experiment as both information and misinformation; i.e., factually incorrect information. The analysis of these informational mechanisms will create a more refined understanding of both the beneficial effects of social transmission of knowledge and the pathological effects such as "groupthink" - in which group cohesion and unanimity of thought is valued more highly than a realistic appraisal of the facts.
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