Individual psychological differences and susceptibility to fake news.

Authors: Taylor, J.

Conference: International Conference on Social Media and Society

Dates: 18-20 July 2018


Background: Trust is a crucial factor involved in how individuals perceive and evaluate items on social media, whether they be interpersonal messages, advertising or the voicing of public opinions. There has been a huge rise in the frequency of fake news, people deceiving others and clickbait leading to less than honest information. This poster reports three separate projects to investigate how individuals evaluate the trustworthiness or credibility of manipulated sources from social media.

Objective: The 2016 American election has been identified as the turning point where fake news on social media gained widespread publicity (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Since then, researchers have started to investigate individuals’ susceptibility to fake news. However, individual differences in susceptibility (such as those with additional learning needs) have not been fully explored. By understanding how individual factors impact susceptibility, researchers will be able to raise awareness of those more vulnerable, at-risk individuals and increase their online safety. Methods: A variety of materials, participant types and procedures were used but all studies involved the presentation of manipulated social media targets and collected participant reactions and perceptions. In additions to demographic variables and psychometric measures, various scales for the measurement of trust in social media items were used. Each study focussed on one individual difference: study 1 explored dyslexia, study 2 explored age differences and study 3 explored personality.

Study 1: dyslexia involves difficulties with language and comprehension and due to slower word recognition/ working memory deficits (Ellis, 2016), sufferers often misunderstand texts and other displays of language. This study therefore investigated whether students with dyslexia were more or less susceptible to fake news using three presentation methods: text, images and videos. Study 2: Hocevar, Flanagin & Metzger (2014) investigated the way people evaluate information online, and found that those with higher social media self-efficacy (SMSE) believed information to be more trustworthy. However, they did not identify whether trustworthiness was related to age and according to Oksanen & Keipi (2013) young people are more susceptible and more frequently the victims of cybercrime. It is important therefore to conduct research into age differences and trustworthiness, so that the threats can be mitigated against. This study tested several different age groups to see if there was a relationship between SMSE, age, accuracy and trustworthiness ratings. Study 3: personality affects online self-presentation and impression formation (Amichai-Hamburger et al, 2010), however little is known about the relationship between personality and trust. The specific variables investigated were introversion-extroversion, openness to experience and emotional stability.

Future Work: Future studies are planned to explore other individual differences, such as anxiety and also experience with social media.

References: Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-236.

Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & Vinitzky, G. (2010). Social network use and personality. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1289-1295.

Ellis, A. (2016). Reading, Writing and Dyslexia. London: Routledge.

Hocevar, K. P., Flanagin, A. J., & Metzger, M. J. (2014). Social media self-efficacy and information evaluation online. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 254-262.

Oksanen, A., & Keipi, T. (2013). Young people as victims of crime on the internet: A population-based study in Finland. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 8(4), 298-309.

Source: Manual