Conservatives more sensitive to political disinformation
A new study by researchers at Ohio State University suggests that American conservatives are more likely than liberals to fall for political disinformation circulating on social media.
The driving force? Fake news favors Republicans, and the confirmation bias we all know makes them more likely to believe it.
The study published this week and written by Ohio State professors Kelly Garrett and Robert Bond found that conservatives were more inclined to accept lies, less inclined to believe true statements, and less able to differentiate between truth and lies.
For example, 41% of Republicans believed in the false claim that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia and sold part of the US uranium supply in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Only 2% of Democrats said it was true.
The researchers distilled true and false claims from viral social media reports and asked about 1,200 participants to rate them. The sources included major news networks, partisan news sources, and satirical news sites such as The Onion and The Babylon Bee.
The investigation took place over six months in 2019, meaning it preceded the disinformation attack peddled by politicians and social media users during the 2020 election cycle.
“Having accurate political knowledge is fundamental to democracy, and ideological differences in citizens’ understanding of empirical evidence on politically important matters are potentially destabilizing for democracy itself,” the authors wrote. “Effective decision-making depends on a common understanding of the reality to which citizens and legislators collectively must respond.”
More false claims deemed better for Republicans
Separately, groups of five Republicans and five Democrats recruited online ranked the 240 statements used in the study as best for a party or neutral. Of these, about 45% of the false allegations were seen to benefit Republicans while 23% benefited Democrats.
A pro-Republicans misrepresentation said British protesters were storing human urine and planning to spray it on former President Donald Trump during his visit to the UK. Democrats.
Meanwhile, the majority of the real demands – 65% – were seen to benefit Democrats, compared to just 10% for Republicans.
Read the full study:The Conservatives’ Sensitivity to Erroneous Political Perceptions
Garrett said the study does not necessarily prove that Conservatives are more biased than Liberals, because all participants believed statements that boosted their political party – and rejected those that did not. But claims that benefited Republicans were more likely to be false, while true claims frequently favored Democratic interests.
This puts Conservatives at a disadvantage because they are ultimately exposed to more misinformation, Garrett said, and confirmation bias makes them more inclined to buy what they see. It’s unclear why the fake news is more favorable to Republicans.
“The conservatives’ consistently poor performance in distinguishing truths from lies seems to be explained in large part by the fact that widely shared lies were consistently more favorable to the political positions of the Conservatives,” the authors wrote.
Garrett said it’s important for news agencies to keep checking the facts and encouraged people to think critically about the content they share on social media. The study also called on policymakers and tech companies to find ways to guard against disinformation.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.