Sharing content, in the digital sense, is primarily about ourselves, Source: Depositphotos

Do we believe everything we share on social media?

Do we believe everything we share on social media?

The act of social media content sharing has been revolutionary…and also insidious

A plethora of information disorders are affecting every tier of our societies. But why are we facing such a threat? The explanation is quite complex, and its origin could be found in the huge tech developments that the communication medium has undergone in recent years. We could argue, though, that one very unique development in this modern communication landscape has been the digital act of sharing.

The ability to share content is what made social media truly social. It launched a new way of broadcasting news and content, as it now made the audience part of this process. Any piece of information, no matter how persuasive, could not have the same impact if it cannot be shared. 

Are we actually aware of our actions?

As various studies have shown, we, as humans, are pretty bad at taking purely rational decisions. The process of learning is definitely important but, unfortunately, it is quite frequently affected by our tendency to adopt perspectives that are similar to what we already presume to be true, or the so-called confirmation bias. Having in mind those aspects we could be tempted to assume that people who actually share something on social media are doing it because it confirms what they already believe.

It is certainly more probable to encounter information that we already accept and trust, due to the way the algorithms on social media are primed to work. Nevertheless, the action of sharing itself does not seem to always reflect what we actually believe. As researchers Gordon Pennycook and David G. Rand have demonstrated through their work, in the case of social media, sharing a piece of information is not strictly related to believing it. This finding is crucial, as it indicates that, even though social media tends to be flooded with falsehoods, many of those who share false information might not believe it. 

While acknowledging that sharing does not mean believing, we are still facing the problem of false or misleading information being shared online, and at rates that could vastly impact our societies. We have to understand that people might be willing to share information for a variety of reasons - beyond the mere act of having trust in it.

Content = Ego

An analysis of those factors leading us to share information online was performed by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, which concluded that the two main motivations wereto promote valuable and entertaining content and to define ourselves to others.

What is interesting here is that content considered valuable and that defined as entertaining were placed in the same category, reinforcing further the argument that we do not have to believe something in order to share it. For many users, the difference between valuable content and entertainment is actually very narrow.

Memes, images, ideas or videos that spread very quickly on the internet, are known as being viral, and their primary role and function is to entertain. But, behind this facade of “satire”, memes can be highly manipulative. Some recipients could treat them as valid information and be tricked into spreading falsehoods, under the guise of entertainment.  

The second motivation might be of even greater importance for understanding the context of sharing. That is because this action of defining ourselves in the online environment is so often synonymous with building an online idealized persona.

Depending on one’s perceived or desired values and ideology this “avatar personality” could follow a totally different path from our real-life persona. What is important is the fact that the online persona could be created and given identity simply by sharing information that we only wish to be true, even if, deep inside, we know that it is false.

Building this “idealized” profile could be powered by the desire to be accepted in a group or with the intention of convincing others to join you. What happens while outlining this persona is that, in order to impress and be more persuasive, people tend to even share information that they perceive as false. 

The fact that sharing might not require believing can reshape the perception of how various disinformation campaigns achieve effectiveness. Even though some people might not be persuaded to really trust a piece of information, sharing without believing still represents a successful manipulatory practice because it contributes to the amplification of certain narratives. 

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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