Fake News for All: How Citizens Discern Disinformation in Autocracies
60 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2021 Last revised: 25 Aug 2022
Date Written: June 14, 2022
Research on autocracies often posits that their citizens are skeptical and discerning news consumers, but existing work does not systematically investigate how well individuals recognize misinformation in authoritarian environments. I present the results of three surveys in Russia, in which more than 60,000 participants evaluated 74 true and false news headlines. The participants did a poor job distinguishing between true and false stories, guessing only slightly better than at random. However, consumers of independent media gave more accurate evaluations than consumers of state media, and opposition-minded citizens much more easily recognized pro-regime misinformation than did government supporters. At the same time, regime critics often fell for propaganda-inconsistent falsehoods. These results question the conventional wisdom about news consumption, suggesting that individuals in environments dominated by propaganda are quite vulnerable to information manipulation.
Keywords: misinformation, propaganda, autocracy, Russia
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