Spreading Disinformation on Facebook: Do Trust in Message Source, Risk Propensity, or Personality Affect the Organic Reach of “Fake News”?

Buchanan, Tom; Benson, Vladlena
Social Media + Society

There is considerable concern about the propagation of disinformation through social media, particularly for political purposes. “Organic reach” has been found to be important in the propagation of disinformation on social networks. This is the phenomenon whereby social media users extend the audience for a piece of information: interacting with it, or sharing it with their wider networks, greatly increases the number of people the information reaches. This project evaluated the extent to which characteristics of the message source (how trustworthy they were) and the recipient (risk propensity and personality) influenced the organic reach of a potentially false message. In an online study, 357 Facebook users completed personality and risk propensity scales and rated their likelihood of interacting in various ways with a message posted by either a trustworthy or untrustworthy source. Message source impacted on overall organic reach, with messages from trusted sources being more likely to be propagated. Risk propensity did not influence reach. However, low scores on trait agreeableness predicted greater likelihood of interacting with a message. The findings provide preliminary evidence that both message source and recipient characteristics can potentially influence the spread of disinformation.