Political communication via social media

The hazardous rise of fake news to political communication via social media.
Johns Hopkins University
Social media has experienced an exponential growth since the 2000s (Edosomwan et al.,
2011), with sites like Facebook and Instagram boasting well over one billion active users as of 2021
(Tankovska, 2021a). Social media offers a convenient platform for reaching global audiences,
lending itself to the rapid transmission of information – be it authentic or fake. The proliferation of
‘fake news’ has been propelled by social media, with recent research highlighting that an overload
of information – as is typical of social media platforms – reduces one’s capacity to evaluate source
authenticity (Qui et al., 2017), while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of fake news sharing
(e.g., Bermes, 2021). Moreover, although 84% of American adults rate themselves as ‘confident’ in
discriminating between fake and real news, 75% mistakenly categorise fake news headlines as
accurate (Silverman & Singer-Vine, 2016). As such, social media platforms provide optimal
conditions for the spread of false information.
The ‘fake news’ phenomenon is inherently related to politics, with the 2016 US Presidential
Election serving as a tipping point. The internet was rife with false information: investigations
reported that over 100 sites featuring falsified pro-Trump content could be traced to Macedonia
(Silverman & Alexander, 2016), and that in the three months prior to Donald Trump’s election, fake
news stories concerning Trump were shared 30 million times on Facebook (Allcott & Gentzkow,
2017). This has fed into hypotheses that the dissemination of fake information via social media
catalyses political polarisation (Tucker et al., 2018), while simultaneously diminishing trust in
mainstream sources of information (Ognyanova et al., 2020).
Recent analyses have attested to how “toxic” (Al-Rawi, 2021, pg. 276) social media
platforms have become to political discourse (Al-Rawi, 2021). Although it has been argued that
social media can be used to challenge and change people’s political views by increasing exposure to
diverse opinions and sources of information (e.g., Shirky, 2011), the algorithms employed by
platforms such as Facebook and Instagram filter information that deviates from the beliefs of the
consumer (based on their interactions), creating echo-chambers (Pariser, 2012). There is an
abundance of research documenting group polarisation (e.g., Moscovici & Zavalloni, 1969), and
one might, based on the presented evidence, hypothesise about how the worldwide increase in the
use of social media (Tankovska, 2021b) is related to increased political extremism (e.g., Bright,
It is important that we understand the hazards posed by the ongoing proliferation of fake
news on social media platforms – which are being used more frequently each year – to political
discourse and polarisation. In the following literature review, we seek to assess the factors that
contribute to the proliferation of political misinformation on social media platforms, how
consumers engage with it, and the impact that this has on their political opinions and behaviour. It is
critical that we understand how the modern political discourse is shaped by fake news, and that we
conceive of ways to disrupt its distribution on social media.
Literature Review
1. Rhodes, S. C. (2021). Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Fake News: How Social Media
Conditions Individuals to Be Less Critical of Political Misinformation. Political
Communication, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2021.1910887
• ABSTRACT: Social media platforms have been found to be the primary gateway through
which individuals are exposed to fake news. The algorithmic filter bubbles and echo
chambers that have popularized these platforms may also increase exposure to fake news.
Because of this, scholars have suggested disrupting the stream of congruent information
that filter bubbles and echo chambers produce, as this may reduce the impact and
circulation of misinformation. To test this, a survey experiment was conducted via Amazon
MTurk. Participants read 10 short stories that were either all fake or half real and half
fake. These treatment conditions were made up of stories agreeable to the perspective of
Democrats, Republicans, or a mix of both. The results show that participants assigned to
conditions that were agreeable to their political world view found fake stories more
believable compared to participants who received a heterogeneous mix of news stories
complementary to both world views. However, this break up” effect appears confined to
Democratic participants; findings indicate that Republicans assigned to filter bubble
treatment conditions believed fake news stories at approximately the same rate as their
fellow partisans receiving a heterogeneous mix of news items. This suggests that a
potential break up” may only influence more progressive users.
2. Nguyen, A., & Vu, H. T. (2019). Testing popular news discourse on the “echo chamber” effect:
Does political polarisation occur among those relying on social media as their primary politics
news source?. First Monday, 24(6). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i6.9632
• ABSTRACT: Since 2016, online social networks (OSNs), especially their big data”
algorithms, have been intensively blamed in popular news discourse for acting as echo
chambers. These chambers entrap like-minded voters in closed ideological circles that
cause serious damage to democratic processes. This study examines this echo chamber”
argument through the rather divisive case of EU politics among EU citizens. Based on an
exploratory secondary analysis of the Eurobarometer 86.2 survey dataset, we investigate
whether the reliance on OSNs as a primary EU political news source can lead people to
more polarisation in EU-related political beliefs and attitudes than a reliance on
traditional media. We found little evidence for this polarisation, lending credence to a
rejection of social media s echo chamber” effect.
3. Au, C. H., Ho, K. K. W., & Chiu, D. K. W. (2021). Does political extremity harm the ability
to identify online information validity? Testing the impact of polarisation through online
experiments. Government Information Quarterly, 101602.
• ABSTRACT: Ideological polarisation has drawn wide attention from both the general
public and researchers. It is frequently argued that under the proliferation of ideological
polarisation, echo chambers may be formed while people inside the echo chambers may
be less willing to accept alternative political viewpoints and more likely to fall into fake
news and online misinformation. To obtain more empirical evidence, we conducted an
online experiment that explored the relationship between one’s position in the political
spectrum and his/her capabilities of identifying political misinformation, as well as the
information consumption habits that may help identify online misinformation. While we
statistically validated some information consumption habits that can help to identify
political misinformation, it was unexpected that political extremists may be indeed more
capable of identifying the validity of news and online information. Based on our findings,
we also provided a range of theoretical and practical implications.
Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of
Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211–236. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.31.2.211
Al-Rawi, A. (2021). Political Memes and Fake News Discourses on Instagram. Media and
Communication, 9(1), 276–290. https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i1.3533
Bermes, A. (2021). Information overload and fake news sharing: A transactional stress perspective
exploring the mitigating role of consumers ’resilience during COVID-19. Journal of
Retailing and Consumer Services, 61, 102555.
Bright, J. (2018). Explaining the Emergence of Political Fragmentation on Social Media: The Role
of Ideology and Extremism. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 23(1), 17–33.
Edosomwan, S., Prakasan, S. K., Kouame, D., Watson, J. & Seymour, T. “The History of Social
Media and Its Impact on Business.” The Journal of Applied Management and
Entrepreneurship 16.3 (2011): 79. Web.
Moscovici, S., & Zavalloni, M. (1969). The group as a polarizer of attitudes. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 12(2), 125–135. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0027568
Ognyanova, K., Lazer, D., Robertson, R. E., & Wilson, C. (2020). Misinformation in action: Fake
news exposure is linked to lower trust in media, higher trust in government when your side
is in power. Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review. https://doi.org/10.37016/mr2020-024
Pariser, E. (2012). The filter bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you. Viking.
Qiu, X., F. M. Oliveira, D., Sahami Shirazi, A., Flammini, A., & Menczer, F. (2017). Limited
individual attention and online virality of low-quality information. Nature Human
Behaviour, 1(7). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0132
Shirky, C. (2011). The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and
Political Change. Foreign Affairs, 90(1), 28–41.
Silverman, C. & Alexander, L. (2016, November 3). How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump
Supporters With Fake News. BuzzFeed News.
Silverman, C. & Singer-Vine, J. (2016, December 6). Most Americans Who See Fake News Believe
It, New Survey Says. BuzzFeed News.
Tankovska, H. (2021a, February 10). Instagram: age distribution of global audiences 2018 |
Statistic. Statista; Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/325587/instagram-global-agegroup/\
Tankovska, H. (2021b, February 2). Facebook users worldwide 2020 | Statista. Statista.
Tucker, J., Guess, A., Barbera, P., Vaccari, C., Siegel, A., Sanovich, S., Stukal, D., & Nyhan, B.
(2018). Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the
Scientific Literature. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3144139

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