Fake News for All: Misinformation and Polarization in Authoritarian Regimes
70 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2021
Date Written: September 12, 2021
How do citizens judge news messages in an environment flooded with misinformation? I investigate this question in the context of Russia, an authoritarian regime where the government systematically spreads falsehoods via state media. I propose that citizens are prone to false belief-consistent messages, and I suggest two mechanisms responsible for such vulnerability---confirmation bias and consumption of like-minded media. In two large-scale surveys, in which over 47,000 respondents evaluated 82 true and false news headlines, I demonstrate that consumption of propaganda does not substantially impair citizens' general ability to detect falsehoods. However, regime supporters and critics strongly disagree about the veracity of political news stories, especially if they use politically congruent media. As a result, supporters are vulnerable to propaganda-consistent misinformation, whereas critics often fall for propaganda-inconsistent falsehoods. Such biased news perceptions may help governments spread propaganda among sympathetic citizens, but they also mean that propaganda is unlikely to convince government critics.
Keywords: misinformation, propaganda, autocracy
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation