How Misinformation Spreads

Among the more worrisome aspects of dis- and misinformation in the digital age are the number of people it can reach in a short time, and the persistent recurrence of its narratives in online spaces. What facilitates its spread on social media? How do traditional media amplify disinformation? This collection addresses scholarship on network effects and individual behaviors in spreading misinformation. 

Live Research Review

What are the factors that cause misinformation to spread? To answer this question, researchers have focused on two broad areas. One is the social and psychological characteristics of audience members who decide what to consume and share. Another is the social media networks themselves, and the technologies that encourage and discourage user behaviors.

Teaching & Learning

Explore course modules, handouts, teaching tools and syllabi about dis- and misinformation.

Latest News on How Misinformation Spreads

Before last year’s presidential election, Facebook ads targeting Latino voters described Joe Biden as a communist. During his inauguration, another conspiracy theory spread online and on Spanish-language radio warning that a brooch worn by Lady Gaga signaled Biden was working with shadowy, leftist figures abroad. And in the final stretch of Virginia’s election for governor, […]

Fall 2021 has been filled with a steady stream of media coverage arguing that Meta’s Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram social media platforms pose a threat to users’ mental health and well-being, radicalize, polarize users and spread misinformation. Are these technologies – embraced by billions – killing people and eroding democracy? Or is this just another […]

On Friday afternoons this fall, top American news executives have dialed into a series of off-the-record Zoom meetings led by Harvard academics whose goal is to “help newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation.” Those are hot topics in the news industry right now, and so the program at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, […]

Dutta (name changed) is 75 years old and lives in a middle-class residential cluster in South Delhi. Throughout, his phone was flooded with WhatsApp messages on how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic: from the use of hydroxychloroquine – the anti-malarial drug – to drinking garlic in hot water to drinking cow urine. A former defence […]

A common way to tackle misinformation, especially health misinformation, is to ignore it. And this is a strategy often employed by authority figures — sidestep the misinformation, don’t give it airtime, and it might just go away. But the results of a new study suggest that this method of combating health misinformation is less effective […]

Featured Scholars

Harvard Law School, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society
Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University