Fake News on Social Media: People Believe What They Want to Believe When it Makes No Sense at All

36 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2018

See all articles by Patricia Moravec

Patricia Moravec

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business; Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Operation & Decision Technologies

Randall Minas

University of Hawaii at Manoa - Shidler College of Business

Alan R. Dennis

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Operation & Decision Technologies

Date Written: August 9, 2018

Abstract

Fake news (i.e., misinformation) on social media has sharply increased over the past years. We conducted an experiment collecting behavioral and EEG data from 83 social media users to understand whether they could detect fake news on social media, and the factors affecting cognition and judgment. We found that confirmation bias dominates, with most users unable to distinguish real news from fake. Users exhibit greater cognitive activity when news headlines align with their political opinions, and they are more likely to believe them. Headlines that challenge their opinions receive little cognitive activity (i.e., they are ignored) and users are less likely to believe them. The presence of a fake news flag on a headline aligned with users’ opinions triggered cognitive activity that could be associated with increased semantic memory retrieval, false memory construction, or increased attention. However, this flag had no effect on judgments about truth; flagging headlines as false did not influence users’ beliefs. Only 17% of our participants could detect fake news better than chance, with only one detecting fake news more than 60% of the time. In other words, most social media users would make better truth judgments by flipping a coin.

Suggested Citation

Moravec, Patricia and Minas, Randall and Dennis, Alan R., Fake News on Social Media: People Believe What They Want to Believe When it Makes No Sense at All (August 9, 2018). Kelley School of Business Research Paper No. 18-87, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3269541 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3269541

Patricia Moravec (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Operation & Decision Technologies ( email )

Business 670
1309 E. Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47401
United States

Randall Minas

University of Hawaii at Manoa - Shidler College of Business ( email )

2404 Maile Way
Honolulu, HI 96822
United States

Alan R. Dennis

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Operation & Decision Technologies ( email )

Business 670
1309 E. Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47401
United States

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