Americans tend to think that fake news has little impact on them — but a large impact on their political rivals, according to a study recently published in Computers in Human Behavior.
“There has been a growing concern that fake news may cause confusion in the fact-checking process and eventually undermine an informed citizenry,” remarked study author S. Mo Jang of the University of South Carolina.
A Pew Research study found in 2016 that about two-thirds of Americans thought that fake news had caused confusion about basic facts. “But interestingly, I observed that individuals regarded others as more susceptible than themselves to the potential harmful effects of fake news,” Jang said.
“This expectation was in line with the self-enhancement explanation of the TPP (Third Person Perception), and we found our data supported it. American voters are more likely to think that they are smarter than others and that they are not easily influenced by false attempts at persuasion.”
According to the Third Person Perception hypothesis, individuals falsely believe that other people are more vulnerable to media effects than themselves. This false belief helps to maintain a positive self-image of oneself.
To test this hypothesis in regards to fake news, the researchers had 1,299 Americans complete a survey about the perceived influence of fake news on themselves and Democratic and Republican voters.
”We found significant in-group/out-group (or partisan) differences regarding the perceived influence of fake news,” Jang explained. “Republican voters believed that the influence of fake news was greater among Democratic voters than for them or other Republican voters. Similarly, Democratic voters perceived that Republican voters were more influenced by fake news than were they or other Democratic voters.”
This effect was amplified among those who strongly identified as a Republican or Democrat.
“Typically, those who have third-person perception (overestimation of media influence on others and underestimation of media influence on me) tend to show strong support for media regulations,” Jang said.”
“But this study did not find that that those with higher third-person perception support fake news regulations. This is may be due to the fact that individuals may not want their freedom of speech to be regulated based on others’ vulnerability. If individuals perceive fake news to have effects on others, educating others is more reasonable than regulating everyone’s freedom of speech.”
“Lots of discussions about how to combat fake news are based on the ‘perceived’ influence of fake news on the public and society, instead of ‘real’ consequences of fake news,” Jang remarked. “More efforts should be done about the real effects of fake news.”
The study, “Third person effects of fake news: Fake news regulation and media literacy interventions“, was co-authored by Joon K. Kim.