Who is most likely to believe and share misinformation?

Vicol, Dora-Olivia

This briefing reviews research evidence published in academic journals and by non-partisan research organisations, to examine who is most likely to believe and share misinformation.

Broadly, some demographic groups are more likely to take an opinion for a fact.
•Older people and people with lower levels of education in general find it harder to discern factual statements from opinion.
•Older adults in particular find it harder to identify the source of articles, even though they may recall the content.However, misinformation is something we can all fall prey to.
•Regardless of age or education, we all get more distracted on social media than on other news media, and are less likely to recall article sources.
•We all tend to share information high in emotion.
•We are all prone to believing information when it is repeated, easy to process and when it aligns with our prior attitudes and world views (motivated reasoning).

Why does this happen? On one hand, we all share certain cognitive biases. Our beliefs are shaped by repetition, processing fluency and motivated reasoning, even when we are not aware of it. On the other hand, studies which examine the persistence of long-debunked inaccuracies, such as climate change scepticism, highlight that belief is also a deeply social process. Standing by or sharing an inaccurate post is not just about an inability to understand the evidence, but also the impulse to reinterpret information in ways which affirm our values.