How Susceptible Are Internet Users?

Intermedia, Vol 46 No 4 December/January 2019

5 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2019

See all articles by William H. Dutton

William H. Dutton

University of Southern California

Laleah Fernandez

Michigan State University - Quello Center

Date Written: January 16, 2019


Major concerns have been raised over the impact of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles. But how pervasive are these problems? What proportion of Internet users are susceptible to such sources of disinformation? Based on a seven nation comparative survey of Internet users, we identify those most likely to be vulnerable to the different but related risks of fake news, echo chambers, or filter bubbles. Counter to widespread expectations, we find only a small proportion of Internet users are likely to be at risk across these countries. In seeking to identify those Internet users who are vulnerable, statistical tendencies conform with general expectations of older users with less education, and lower incomes being among those most susceptible. However, there is also evidence suggesting that some individuals in nearly all demographic groups can be among the vulnerable – figuratively falling through the cracks. Finding the vulnerable to be limited in scale, but scattered across major demographic categories, we argue against an aggressive awareness campaign targeting the most vulnerable, in favor of nudging all Internet users to be aware of these vulnerabilities and how to avoid them. This article is based on the Quello Search Project based at the Quello Center, Michigan State University, which was supported by a grant from the Google Inc., entitled “The Part Played by Search in Shaping Political Opinion”, which is described online at quello center.

A report of the project findings is available at

Suggested Citation

Dutton, William H. and Fernandez, Laleah, How Susceptible Are Internet Users? (January 16, 2019). Intermedia, Vol 46 No 4 December/January 2019. Available at SSRN: or

William H. Dutton (Contact Author)

University of Southern California ( email )

3502 Watt Way #304
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Laleah Fernandez

Michigan State University - Quello Center ( email )

406 Communication Arts Building
404 Wilson Road
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
United States

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