Tokenization of social media engagements increases the sharing of false (and other) news but penalization moderates it

Alizadeh, Meysam; Hoes, Emma; Gilardi, Fabrizio
Scientific Reports

Some major social media companies are announcing plans to tokenize user engagements, derived from blockchain-based decentralized social media. This would bring financial and reputational incentives for engagement, which might lead users to post more objectionable content. Previous research showed that financial or reputational incentives for accuracy decrease the willingness to share misinformation. However, it is unclear to what extent such outcome would change if engagements instead of accuracy were incentivized, which is a more realistic scenario. To address this question, we conducted a survey experiment to examine the effects of hypothetical token incentives. We find that a simple nudge about the possibility of earning token-based points for the achieved user engagements increases the willingness to share different kinds of news, including misinformation. The presence of penalties for objectionable posts diminishes the positive effect of tokenization rewards on misinformation sharing, but it does not eliminate it. These results have policy implications for content moderation practices if platforms embrace decentralization and engagement tokenization.