Why So Serious?: Survey Trolls and Misinformation

42 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2018 Last revised: 19 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 14, 2018


Following the 2016 Presidential Election, there has been growing concern with the prevalence of fake news stories and political rumors; and the consequences this might have on the level of misinformation held by the American public. Most research has assumed that self-reported beliefs in political misinformation are entirely sincere, and while there has been some research on the extent to which reporting belief in misinformation is expressive, most scholars conclude that American public is genuinely misinformed. We offer another possibility: reported beliefs in political misinformation may be partially the result of satisficing and of respondents deliberately responding in a humorous manner—trolling the survey. Using original survey data from two separate studies conducted in 2017 that included measures of low incident demographic items, self-reported response insincerity, and a wide variety of political and non-political beliefs, we examine the extent to which estimates of political misinformation are biased by measurement error and survey trolling. Our results suggest that not only do “survey trolls” exist, and report beliefs in systematically different ways, but their humorous responding can upwardly bias the level of belief in more recent cases of political rumors and misinformation (e.g., PizzaGate).

Keywords: misinformation, trolls, trolling, public opinion, politics

Suggested Citation

Lopez, Jesse and Hillygus, D. Sunshine, Why So Serious?: Survey Trolls and Misinformation (March 14, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3131087 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3131087

Jesse Lopez (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

Durham, NC 27708
United States
310-569-4473 (Phone)

D. Sunshine Hillygus

Duke University ( email )

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