The social media context interferes with truth discernment

Epstein, Ziv; Sirlin, Nathaniel; Arechar, Antonio; Pennycook, Gordon; Rand, David
Science Advances

There is widespread concern about misinformation circulating on social media. In particular, many argue that the context of social media itself may make people susceptible to the influence of false claims. Here, we test that claim by asking whether simply considering sharing news on social media reduces the extent to which people discriminate truth from falsehood when judging accuracy. In a large online experiment examining coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and political news (N = 3157 Americans), we find support for this possibility. When judging the accuracy of headlines, participants were worse at discerning truth from falsehood if they both evaluated accuracy and indicated their sharing intentions, compared to just evaluating accuracy. These results suggest that people may be particularly vulnerable to believing false claims on social media, given that sharing is a core element of what makes social media “social.”