Moral leniency towards belief-consistent disinformation may help explain its spread on social media

Article


Joyner, L., Buchanan, T. and Yetkili, O. 2023. Moral leniency towards belief-consistent disinformation may help explain its spread on social media. PLoS ONE. 18 (3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0281777
TypeArticle
TitleMoral leniency towards belief-consistent disinformation may help explain its spread on social media
AuthorsJoyner, L., Buchanan, T. and Yetkili, O.
Abstract

The spread of false and misleading information on social media is largely dependent on human action. Understanding the factors that lead social media users to amplify (or indeed intervene in) the spread of this content is an ongoing challenge. Prior research suggests that users are not only more likely to interact with misinformation that supports their ideology or their political beliefs, they may also feel it is more acceptable to spread. However, less is known about the influence of newer, issue-specific beliefs. Two online studies explored the relationship between the degree of belief-consistency of disinformation on users’ moral judgements and intentions to spread disinformation further. Four disinformation narratives were presented: disinformation that supported or undermined the UK Government’s handling of COVID-19, and disinformation that minimised or maximised the perceived risk of COVID-19. A novel scale for measuring intentions to contribute to the spread of social media content was also used in study 2. Participants reported greater likelihood of spreading false material that was consistent with their beliefs. More lenient moral judgements related to the degree of belief-consistency with disinformation, even when participants were aware the material was false or misleading. These moral judgements partially mediated the relationship between belief-consistency of content and intentions to spread it further on social media. While people are concerned about the spread of disinformation generally, they may evaluate belief-consistent disinformation differently from others in a way that permits them to spread it further. As social media platforms prioritise the ordering of feeds based on personal relevance, there is a risk that users could be being presented with disinformation that they are more tolerant of.

KeywordsDisinformation; Misinformation; Beliefs; Moral psychology; Social psychology; Moral Judgements; Social media; Facebook
Sustainable Development Goals16 Peace, justice and strong institutions
Middlesex University ThemeHealth & Wellbeing
LanguageEnglish
PublisherPublic Library of Science
JournalPLoS ONE
ISSN
Electronic1932-6203
Publication dates
Online22 Mar 2023
Print22 Mar 2023
Publication process dates
Submitted25 Jul 2022
Accepted31 Jan 2023
Deposited11 Jun 2024
Output statusPublished
Publisher's version
License
File Access Level
Open
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0281777
Web of Science identifierWOS:000970044200023
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