How the Way We Think Drives Disinformation: An International Forum Working Paper

Woolley, Samuel C.; Joseff, Katie

With the advent of digital communications, the rapid spread of political disinformation—the purposeful use of misleading or manipulative information to subvert political discourse and confuse, divide, or otherwise negatively influence publics—has become a vexing challenge for societies worldwide. While political actors have used rumor, incitement, and falsehood as tools since time immemorial, modern technologies allow them to produce and disseminate disinformation at a scale never before seen. The effect has been to blanket the wider information space in confusion and cynicism, fracture democratic societies, and distort public discussion.

Initial assessments of the problem focused on how technological advancements in connectivity have enhanced the reach, speed, and magnitude of disinformation. As a result, the first wave of responses to the challenge was therefore based on the supply of disinformation, and often emphasized fact-checking, debunking, and counter-narratives.

This report focuses on demand for disinformation. While some consumers are exposed to and perhaps influenced by disinformation incidentally, others repeatedly seek out and believe sources of disinformation while rejecting other information sources. Why?