Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News
57 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017 Last revised: 27 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 26, 2017
The 2016 US Presidential Election brought considerable attention to the phenomenon of “fake news”: entirely fabricated and often partisan content that is presented as factual. Disinformation of this sort poses a major threat to democracy. Here we demonstrate one cognitive mechanism that underlies the believability of fake news: familiarity. Using actual fake news headlines presented as they are seen on Facebook, we show that even a single exposure increases perceptions of accuracy, both within the same session and after a week. Moreover, increased perceptions of accuracy for familiar fake news headlines occurs even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact checkers, or are inconsistent with the reader’s political ideology. Thus, the spread of fake news is supported by persistent low-level cognitive process that make even highly implausible and partisan claims more believable with repetition – that is, an illusory truth effect exists for fake news. Our results suggest that social media platforms help to incubate blatantly false news stories, and that tagging such stories as disputed is not an effective solution to this problem.
Keywords: Fake News, Illusory Truth, Familiarity, Fluency, Motivated Reasoning, Political Psychology, Media Psychology
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