In a world governed by the Internet, social media has long been a source of information. This is especially true in times of crisis, when all kinds of “warnings” and information are actively disseminated in social networks and messengers, the reliability of which is impossible to determine. Sometimes this leads to the spread of fake “news”, and the main wave is picked up and spread by the users themselves.
Professor Asako Miura and a team of scientists from Osaka University published the results of a study in which they found a scheme for the spread of such disinformation. “It is based on false rumors, and we decided to study the basic methods of spreading them,” writes Professor Miura.
Scientists have focused on one of the popular worldwide social networks, where users can share information using the repost function.
Cognitive model Slovika
The models of information dissemination studied earlier do not answer the question of which “route” is used to transmit fake news, because they do not take into account the user characteristics of the inhabitants of social networks. Therefore, for a start, scientists began to study these characteristics.
They selected 10 posts with messages about potential danger, which were shared more than 50 times by other people. Using a cognitive risk assessment model developed by Paul Slovik, Japanese scientists tested user perception. They found out whether those potential risks were considered “dire”, that is, associated with large-scale events and their possible severe consequences, or “unknown” when the impact of the event was not previously understood.
The researchers then analyzed the accounts of users who shared, in particular, the number of followers, subscriptions, and mutual friends.
How we assess risks
Studying the problem of risk perception in the 1970s, Slovik and his colleagues conducted experiments and studies, the results of which were then subjected to statistical analysis. It turned out that there are factors that influence the perceived degree of danger of an event or phenomenon. For example, if a certain event affected children, then the level of risk was considered higher than if the same event concerned only adults.
Increasing the sense of danger is also influenced by:
- the novelty of the event – unknown risks are much more frightening than recurring ones;
- lack of understanding of what is happening – if people believe that the source of the risk is poorly understood, then they assess it as more dangerous;
- media coverage – the more emphasis on the event, the stronger the anxiety in society;
- time – threats that are close to the present day seem serious to us, and those related to the future may be underestimated;
- reversibility – if it seems to us that the situation will lead to irreversible consequences, it is assessed as more risky;
- possibility of control – if it seems to us that we are able to influence an event, we assess the risks as less high than if it is impossible to do so – therefore, contrary to statistics, people usually fear plane crashes more than road accidents.
There are other factors that influence our perception.
Social media effect
After examining the accounts of those who did the repost, Japanese scientists found that users with fewer contacts showed a tendency to freely distribute information – perhaps due to a lack of experience or awareness. Those who had a lot of mutual connections were more likely to share “terrible” information. They perceived the information as more dangerous, were more emotional, and were probably driven by the desire to share their reaction with the public.
“Our research has proven that a certain mechanism for the dissemination of information on social networks cannot be explained by traditional theoretical models,” says Professor Miura. “It became clear that risk perception has a significant impact on the number of shares.”
This study can be used as a starting point in looking for an answer to the question of how to prevent or stop the flow of fake news, and instead disseminate as much accurate information as possible so that appropriate action can be taken.
“People have the opportunity to rethink how false information is disseminated and to facilitate the provision of verified information through social media,” the study authors believe.