Since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, concerns over the circulation of “fake” news and other unverified digital content have intensified. As people have grown to rely on social media as a news source, there has been considerable debate about its role in aiding the spread of misinformation. Much recent attention has centered around putting fact-checking filters in place, as false claims often persist in the public consciousness even after they are corrected.
We set out to test how the context in which we process information affects our willingness to verify ambiguous claims. Results across eight experiments reveal that people fact-check less often when they evaluate statements in a collective setting (e.g., in a group or on social media) than when they do so alone. Simply perceiving that others are present appeared to reduce participants’ vigilance when processing information, resulting in lower levels of fact-checking.
Our experiments surveyed over 2,200 U.S. adults via Amazon Mechanical Turk. The general paradigm went as follows: As part of a study about “modes of communication on the internet,” respondents logged onto a simulated website and evaluated a series of statements.