Web Stories Wednesday, February 28

MEANING WELL, MEANING ILL

Only a minority of people share false information but, given the vast scale of social media platforms, even that can lead to fake stories spreading like wildfire. This makes it harder for people to get news they can trust and leads people to believe things that simply aren’t true.

Our research revealed that some people shared fake stories because they thought they were funny (one said because they thought it was “ludicrous”, for example). Others shared the misinformation specifically to highlight that it was false. Others minimised the harm they were doing by suggesting it wasn’t actually that serious if they shared fake news.

Our findings reveal that some people behave in an antisocial way when it comes to fake news, deliberately sharing false information to achieve some personal objective, even if it means attacking other people or trying to manipulate them.

Sharing false stories in this way can be used, for example, to affect people’s political views, whether by supporting a smear campaign against a politician or by boosting a politician’s clout.

People driven by such reasons seem not to be bothered by whether the news they are sharing is true or false, and may even view sharing news as a means of manipulation. At the very least, these people are being uncaring about the harmful effects of their actions.

In sharp contrast to these, some people share political news, whether true or false, with the best intentions. They seem to see sharing fake news as a way to make the world better.

“Good” reasons for sharing can reflect a desire to protect others (for example, by alerting them to potential dangers), to encourage people to “do the right thing”, or even to become socially or politically engaged.

Other people may use news sharing as a force for good by pointing out that a particular story is false. Ironically though, that means the false story may spread even further.

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