Why do we fall for fake news? (2023)

Why do people fall victim to fake news? Can't they tell when they'll find her? Such easy access to real facts and fact checkers surely solves the problem, right? Unfortunately, part of the reason fake news is a problem is peopleTutfall in love with these stories and see the factsnohelp fix this problem.

James McDaniel [...] said he created a fake news website... as a joke to see how naïve internet readers can be. UndergroundNewsReport.com launched on February 21st. In less than two weeks, more than 1 million people have viewed stories on the site and shared them across social media platforms. […] "I kept writing ridiculous things that kept getting shared and getting more viewers," McDaniel told PolitiFact. "I saw how many ridiculous and false stories were floating around in these groups and I just wanted to see how ridiculous they could get."

McDaniel even tried to warn viewers by placing a disclaimer at the bottom of his web pages that his posts were "fiction and suspected fake news." While a handful of people bothered to email him asking if the stories were real or sent him hate mail, the majority of those who commented on his links blindly accepted what he wrote as the truth.

(Quoted fromPolitifact.com)

(Video) Why it’s so easy to fall for fake news and how to spot it

This is not a matter of gullibility. It is due to a property of human thinking known ascognitive bias🇧🇷 Cognitive biases are deviations or shortcuts in thinking, remembering or evaluating something that can lead to wrong conclusions. They are universal. The whole world has them.

This section explains how cognitive biases work: what's going on in people's minds makes it more likely that we'll fall for fake news and continue to believe wrong information even after it's been corrected.

Why do people have cognitive biases? Usually these mental shortcuts make our lives easier. You don't have to relearn how to get home from work or school every day, it's so ingrained in your head that you can follow it without thinking. This "automatic process" allows people to save mental energy for more complicated things [1]. At the same time, cognitive prejudices can also lead to errors in reasoning. They can act like blinkers, leading us to overlook something that would otherwise have been obvious. They can also cause some of our mental perspective to play a disproportionate role in our thinking. A common example of this is that young people mistakenly believe that they do not need health insurance because they are generally healthy [2]. This sounds perfectly logical to a sane person, but ignores the possibility of catastrophic events.

Cognitive bias and fake news

Cognitive biases also affect how we use information. Four types of cognitive biases are particularly relevant when it comes to fake news: First, we tend to focus on headlines and tags without reading the article they are linked to. Second, social media popularity signals influence our attention and acceptance of information. Third, fake news attacks partiality, a very powerful reflex. And fourth, persistence: There's a strange tendency for incorrect information to persist even after it's been corrected.

Act without reading

The first of these biases is the tendency to trust the warning signals sent by fake news without thoroughly evaluating the information that accompanies those signals. Unfortunately, many people form an opinion about news articles without even reading them [3].

A humorous, if alarming, example of this is a social experiment conducted by National Public Radio (NPR). As a joke, NPR shared a caption on its Facebook page that read, "Why doesn't America read anymore?" When users clicked the link, they were taken to a page on the NPR website that explained the article was a hoax. But many viewers, without having read the article, reacted to the headline with comments without having read the article carefully [4].

Why do we fall for fake news? (1)

Those:NPR Facebook page

This is not an isolated case. Other websites also report that many of the comments people post on the news articles they feature are from people responding to the headline and not the article itself [5]. In the case of Twitter, researchers examined 2.8 million online news articles shared by Twitter users, sometimes adding their own original comments. According to computer records, more than half of the time, most people who shared the articles never clicked on the link that would have allowed them to read the story. Of course, people like to share, retweet, or like things without ever having read them [6]. In terms of the spread and influence of fake news, this can be quite harmful. For example, the rise of clickbait relies on eye-catching headlines that grab attention [7]. If people only read the headlines, they can mistakenly take what is in the headlines as fact without further examining whether there is doubt or another side of the story being expressed. Sharing without reading can also make stories gain popularity or trend [8]. This makes it more likely that other people will also read or retweet them. It becomes a social-cognitive epidemic.

Popularity cues affect adoption

Another trend has to do with the popularity of a message. The so-called “follower effect” occurs when many other people seem to like something, making it more likely that we will also support it [9].

Why do we fall for fake news? (2)


With fake news, the bandwagon effect occurs when we see how many times something has been shared or liked, and not based on the content itself [10]. How many stars a story receives or what percentage of people rated a story positively also influences belief [11]. The popularity of something allows us to ignore the value of the information. If thousands of other people have shared a story, surely someone has verified it, right? Unfortunately, as we've already learned, shares and likes can often happen without anyone reading what's being shared [6]. In addition, bots whose sole purpose is to make certain news items appear widely read and recommended can increase the apparent popularity of fake news.

Perceptions of popularity can influence not only our attention but also our behavior. Just as we seem to like what others like, we also want to be liked and give others a good picture of ourselves [12]. Research has found that wanting to appear informed is one of the reasons many people share information they have not read [3]. A recent study found that the more likes people share fake news, the more they believe [13].

We also use other people's comments as a guide to interpreting online news, whether true or false. Human psychological tendencies toward group conformity lead us to say what people we perceive as ourselves say [14]. Comments posted on social media content also influence our evaluation of the content, and we often reflect the attitudes about the topic that the comments connote, especially when we identify with the commenters [15].

The harmful effect of partisanship

(Video) Why people fall for misinformation - Joseph Isaac

Why do we fall for fake news? (3)


A third type of bias arises from our existing political alignment in the form ofpartisanship🇧🇷 When it comes to news and information in general, identifying as a Democrat or Republican, or self-image as Liberal or Conservative, has a major impact on what we easily believe or reject in the news, regardless of its truth content. As uncomfortable as it may be to accept, a variety of research shows that people often reject news that is inconsistent with their political beliefs and tend to accept news that is in line with their political orientation.

Like it or not, research has clearly shown that the majority of politically-oriented fake news during the 2016 US election campaign was consumed by conservatives, with supporters of Donald Trump particularly likely to find and visit fake news sites [16]. . As the following table shows, Hillary Clinton supporters were, on average, more likely to visit fact-checking sites than fake news sites. Trump supporters were less likely to visit fact-checking sites and more likely to visit fake news sites:

Why do we fall for fake news? (4)

Quelle: Guess et al., 2018 [16]

We still don't understand exactly why this happened. Many individuals who attempted to make money from fake news that had no political bias said they attempted to do so by fabricating stories that appealed to both conservatives and liberals. However, they dropped pro-liberal fake news because liberals didn't click on it [17]. Russian propagandists, on the other hand, were more capable of spreading false or misleading advertisements with pro-liberal or pro-conservative messages. In any case, fake news in the 2016 presidential election was a clearly conservative phenomenon.

Why do we fall for fake news? (5)

Those:Facebook editorial team

Under pressure, social media platforms have taken various measures to curb the spread of fake news online.Facebook detected (and removed) several Russian-backed fake accounts in the summer of 2018, which had promoted fake events (like No Unite the Right 2) to mobilize liberals, feminist groups and minorities to organize counter-protests against unrealistic events. It's not clear if things have improved. For example, public research group AVAAZ conducted an “analysis of the steps Facebook has taken over the course of 2020 (and) shows that had the platform acted sooner, it would have…reduced an estimated 10.1 billion views of…disinformation in the eight.” years could have prevented months before the US election (2020)" [18].

The persistence of inaccuracy

A final way that cognitive biases can be problematic is how long they can last and how they present barriers to dispelling false beliefs. It would be nice if simply telling people when the information they were consuming was wrong was enough. Unfortunately it isn't.

Researchers have found that our memories are pretty poor when it comes to remembering what's real and what's not, as long as we've seen something. In the case of fake news, Boston College professor Emily Thorson has observed that even in the face of information corrections, "echoes of belief" often remain [19]. Belief echoes occur when people recall false news and claim it to be true, even if they were later presented with the correct information. Misinformation is notoriously stuck in people's minds, and it can go as far as simply correcting it in the form of another message.

Even if there were some sort of fake news fix warning people to be careful, the absence of those warnings could have a bigger impact than their presence. Gordon Pennycock and David Rand of Yale University examined whether warnings about fake news would affect people's belief in the information. While people were less likely to believe stories with a disclaimer, they were more likely to believe stories, whether false or not, when the disclaimer was absent [20]. When people know that warnings are possible, they may feel like they might lose their vigilance, and when there is no warning, they think the information is likely to be reliable, which unfortunately need not be the case.

Other research, focused on Twitter, showed that users who post fact checks about fake news often also post misleading content along with the fact check article, and what they write may actually contradict what the fact check indicates. Even when people go a step further than examining the original source of a message, sneaky clickbait artists have been known to make the hosting site look as much like a real news site [7].

We have much more information aboutverification of the factsElsewhere on this site, but from a cognitive bias perspective, it's possible that the reason fact-checking services don't get many clicks is simply because people think they don't need them. The most common way to judge whether information is true or not is to use their own intuition [21]. People tend to feel more secure about recognizing something that isn't true than about who they really are [22]. In addition, people also believe that they are less likely to be influenced by media messages than other people, an illusion commonly referred to as the "third-person effect" [23]. Fact checkers don't have enough impact because we mistakenly assume we don't need them, even when they fool us.

How social media platforms help us fall for fake news

Social media platforms actually benefit from fake news commercially as these sensational stories increase engagement on their sites, shares and likes. Social media sites inherently support and amplify the reach of misinformation through popularity indicators and the ability of bots to increase the perceived credibility of posts through likes, comments, and shares. Social media platforms are the ideal “home” for fake news for several reasons [24]:

1. Entry costs are low. It is virtually "free" for sources of fake news content to get onto social media platforms and post false information online.

(Video) Virtual Speaker Series : Why Do We Fall for Fake News, and What Can Be Done About It?

2. The digital nature of social media platforms makes it difficult to determine the true source or credibility of news articles. Fake news sources often use domain names of similar websites as credible news outlets to trick users into believing that false information comes from credible sources. Here is an example of this strategy:

Why do we fall for fake news? (6)

Those:Washington State University Libraries

This website mimics major news sources by replicating BBC.com's layout and using a similar domain name to trick readers into believing that this source is from the British Broadcasting Corporation. A quick look at the URL may mislead viewers as it starts with bbc.com, but please note that the full URL isbbc.com-ultimas-noticias.xyz.If this appears in your news feed, it would be difficult to identify this link as a fake news site.

3. Our networks on social media platforms tend to be ideologically homogeneous, meaning that Facebook friends or Instagram followers are likely to share similar beliefs with any of us. We are more likely to read, share, and interact with news that aligns with our ideological positions, creating echo chambers and increasing the likelihood of spreading fake news.

Basically, social media platforms themselves and the way they are designed help users to “fall in love” with fake news. It's not 100% users' fault, but platforms and users have a unique relationship that ultimately leads to the spread of fake news across the internet.

Other Reasons We Share Fake News Online

Social media users are motivated to share messages online to express themselves, socialize, build relationships and gain social status. We share news online, even if it seems too lewd to be true, if we think it might be interesting or amusing on our social networks. We develop a sense of connection with our online communities by sharing news and information, thereby addressing our need for social interaction.

Why do we fall for fake news? (7)[25]

We sometimes intentionally share fake news to warn, educate, fact-check, and amuse or mock [26]. Until recently, research characterized those who spread fake news on social media as being reactive and reflective rather than proactive. Clever researchers have begun to question the extent to which people share false stories to warn others of their falsehood, enlighten them, or encourage fact-checking.


[1] S.T. Fiske and S.E. Taylor,Social cognition: from brain to culture, 2ª ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2013.

[2] D. Bennett, "What If Reasonable People Don't Want to Buy Obamacare?"the Atlantic, 3. June 2013.https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/what-if-healthy-people-dont-want-buy-obamacare/314659/(Accessed August 2, 2018).

[3] T. Hale, "Marijuana Contains 'Alien DNA' From Outside Our Solar System, NASA Confirms"IFLSciencia, July 13, 2013.www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/marijuana-contains-alien-dna-from-outside-of-our-solar-system-nasa-confirms/(Accessed August 2, 2018).

[4] NPR.org, "Why Doesn't America Read More?"NPR.org, December 14, 2016.https://www.npr.org/2014/04/01/297690717/por-que-no-america-lee-mas(Accessed August 2, 2018).

[5] M. Gabielkov, A. Ramachandran, A. Chaintreau und A. Legout, „Social Clicks: What and Who Reads on Twitter?“, inTagungsband der 2016 ACM SIGMETRICS International Conference on Measurement and Modeling in Computer Science, New York, NY, USA. USA, 2016, S. 179–192.https://doi.org/10.1145/2896377.2901462.

[6] C. Shaoand other, “Anatomy of an Online Disinformation Network”,ANOTHER, Bd. 13, Nr. 4, S. e0196087, April 2018,https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196087.

[7] C. Silverman and L. Alexander, “How Balkan Teens Fool Trump Supporters with Fake News”Notes on BuzzFeed, 23. November 2016.https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/how-macedonia-bemade-a-global-hub-for-pro-trump-misinfo#.nfGBdzv3rN(Accessed August 2, 2018).

[8] G. King, J. Pan and M.E. Roberts, "How the Chinese government fabricates social media posts for strategic detours without making arguments"American Journal of Political Science, Bd. 111, Nr. 3, p. 484-501, 2017.https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055417000144

(Video) The Big Fake Out: Why Do we Fall for Fake News?

[9] S. S. Sundar, S. Knobloch-Westerwick und M. R. Hastall, „New Cues: Information Scent and Cognitive Heuristics“Zeitschrift der American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol. 58, No. 3, p. 366–378, February 2007,https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.20511.

[10] M. J. Metzger und A. J. Flanagin, „Using Web 2.0 Technologies to Enhance Evidence-Based Medical Information“,Health Communication Magazine, Vol. 16 Supplement 1, pp. 45–58, 2011,https://doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2011.589881.

[11] J B Walther, J Jang and AH Edwards, "Evaluating health advice in a Web 2.0 environment: The influence of multiple user-generated factors on perceptions of HIV advice"health communication, Vol. 33, No. 1, p. 57–67, January 2018,https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2016.1242036.

[12] Insko CA, Smith RH, Alicke MD, Wade J, and Taylor S, "Conformity and group size: The concern of being right and the concern of liking."Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Bd. 11, Nr. 1, S. 41–50, 1985,https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167285111004.

[13] J. B. Walther, Z. Lew, J. Quick und A. Edwards, „The Effect of Social Approval on Attitudes Toward the Focus of Fake News in Social Media“, Präsentation auf dem Jahrestreffen der International Communication Association, Paris, Mai 2022 .

[14] J. Colliander, "'This is Fake News': Exploring the Role of Adhering to Other Users' Opinions in Commenting and Spreading Misinformation on Social Media"Computers in human behavior, Bd. 97, S. 101-1 202–215, August 2019,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.03.032.

[15] J B Walther, D DeAndrea, J Kim, and J C Anthony, "The impact of online comments on perceptions of anti-marijuana PSAs on YouTube,"Human Communication Research, Bd. 36, Nr. 4, p. 469–492, 2010,https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01384.x.

[16] A. Guess, B. Nyhan und J. Reifler, „Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence of Fake News Consumption During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign“, 9. Januar 2018.https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/fake-news-2016.pdf(Accessed August 3, 2018).

[17] L. Sydell: “We tracked down a fake news maker in the suburbs. We learned that."NPR.org, 23. November 2016.https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs(Accessed August 2, 2018).

[18] AVAAZ, "Facebook: From Elections to Uprising,"AVAAZ, March 18, 2021.https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/facebook_election_insurrection/(Accessed June 30, 2022).

[19] E. Thorson, „Echoes of Beliefs: The Lingering Effects of Corrigido Misinformation“political communication, Bd. 33, No. 3, S. 460–480, July 2016,https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2015.1102187.

[20] G Pennycook and DG Rand, "The Implied Truth Effect: Attaching Warnings to a Subset of False Stories Increases the Perceived Accuracy of Stories Without Warnings", Social Science Research Network, Rochester, NY, SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3035384, December 2017. Accessed 2 August 2018. [Online]. Available:https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3035384

[21] E. C. Tandoc, R. Ling, O. Westlund, A. Duffy, D. Goh und L. Zheng Wei, „Audience Authentication Acts in the Age of Fake News: A Conceptual Framework“New media and society, vol. 20, no. 8, pp. 2745-2763, August 2018,https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817731756.

[22] M. Metzger, A. Flanagin, and E. Nekmat, "Comparative optimism in assessing the online credibility of parents and children"Broadcast and electronic media magazine, Bd. 59, No. 3, S. 509–529, July 2015,https://doi.org/10.1080/08838151.2015.1054995.

[23] A.C. Gunther and J.D. Storey, "The Impact of Presumed Influence,"Magazine communication, Vol. 53, No. 2, p. 199–215, June 2003,https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.tb02586.x.

[24] H. Allcott und M. Gentzkow, „Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election“Economic Perspectives Magazine, Bd. 31, Nr. 2, S. 211–236, Mai 2017,https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.31.2.211.

[25] A. Duffy, E. Tandoc, and R. Ling, “Too good to be true, too good not to share: the social utility of fake news”Information, communication and society, Bd. 23, Nr. 13, S. 1965–1979, November. 2020,https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2019.1623904.

[26] M. J. Metzger, A. J. Flanagin, P. Mena, S. Jiang und C. Wilson, „From Dark to Light: The Many Shades of Sharing Misinformation Online“,media and communication, vol. 9, no. 1, art. Not. February 1, 2021,https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i1.3409.

(Video) Why do we believe fake news?


1. Fall of Fake News | Paul Du Part | TEDxCanadianIntlSchool
(TEDx Talks)
2. How false news can spread - Noah Tavlin
3. Who’s to Blame for Fake News? Probably You
4. Part 1 - Does Your Age Determine Whether You Fall for Fake News?
(The Real Daytime)
5. Dr. Betsy Holmberg: Why do we fall for fake news and conspiracy theories?
(Greek University Inc.)
6. Why do we fall for Fake News? | Fake News in India | How to Identify Fake News
(Barely Opinionated)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Carmelo Roob

Last Updated: 03/11/2023

Views: 5915

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carmelo Roob

Birthday: 1995-01-09

Address: Apt. 915 481 Sipes Cliff, New Gonzalobury, CO 80176

Phone: +6773780339780

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Gaming, Jogging, Rugby, Video gaming, Handball, Ice skating, Web surfing

Introduction: My name is Carmelo Roob, I am a modern, handsome, delightful, comfortable, attractive, vast, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.