Investigating Digital Outrage as an Engine of Disinformation

Yale University

Abstract

How does disinformation spread online? We propose a psychological process model whereby disinformation triggers especially high levels of moral outrage, which facilitates its spread via two mechanisms: engagement-driven newsfeed prioritization, and “mindless” re-sharing behavior. Disinformation is designed to propagate, and previous work has shown moral emotions are highly contagious in online settings. High levels of user engagement with moral content may then prioritize that content in users’ newsfeeds. Moreover, intermittent social reinforcement of outrage expressions (through “likes” and “shares”) has the potential to transform initially deliberative expressions of outrage into “mindless” habitual re-sharing of disinformation. We will test our model’s predictions on data from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Finding empirical support for our model has potential to inform the development of practical solutions for detecting disinformation and preventing its spread.

Research Team

Principal Investigators

Molly Crockett

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Yale University

  • Bio ▾

    Dr. Molly Crockett is an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University. Prior to joining Yale, she was an associate professor in experimental psychology, fellow of Jesus College, and distinguished research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford. She holds a BSc in neuroscience from UCLA and a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge, and completed a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship with economists and neuroscientists at the University of Zurich and University College London. She received the Early Career Award from the Society for Neuroeconomics in 2018 and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017. Dr. Crockett’s lab investigates the psychological and neural mechanisms of human morality, altruism, and economic decision-making. Her research integrates perspectives from social psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and philosophy, and employs a range of methods including behavioral experiments, computational modeling, functional brain imaging, field studies, and "big data" analyses. This work has appeared in Science, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, PNAS, and Nature Human Behaviour. Current interests include how narratives shape moral behavior; moral outrage and political polarization; and how modern technologies might be changing the way we relate to one another.

William Brady

Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University

  • Bio ▾

    Dr. William Brady is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Yale University. Prior to joining Yale, he completed his PhD in social psychology at New York University. His award-winning dissertation work investigated the psychological processes that make moralized content spread in online networks. His current research investigates the psychological processes that drive people’s interactions during moral and political engagement online, and how digital environments shape the expression of emotion and our moral values. He leverages multiple methodologies that include social media and big data analytics, behavioral experiments, and computational modeling. His work has appeared in PNAS, Trends in Cognitive Science, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Participants

Guillaume Chaslot

Research Engineer, University of Paris-Est

  • Bio ▾

    Guillaume Chaslot is a research engineer at the University of Paris Est, and an advisor at the Center for Humane Technology. He completed a PhD in computer science at Maastricht University, focusing on Monte Carlo methods for Computer Go. After working at Microsoft, YouTube, and Google, he created the website AlgoTransparency.org to analyze the impact of YouTube's AI on major societal issues.

Kate Klonick

Assistant Professor of Law, St. John’s University

  • Bio ▾

    Kate Klonick is an affiliate fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, an assistant professor of law at St. John's University Law School, and a Future Tense Fellow at New America. She holds a PhD from Yale Law School, where she wrote on the legal history of using shaming as a means of criminal enforcement in comparison to viral online shaming in social media today and the history and development of private governance in online speech specifically related to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. She also holds a JD from Georgetown University Law School, where she was a senior editor of the Georgetown Law Journal and founding editor of the Georgetown Law Journal Online. Dr. Klonick’s research and writing looks at networked technologies' effect on the areas of social norm enforcement, torts, property, intellectual property, artificial intelligence, robotics, freedom of expression, and governance. Her work on these topics has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, Maryland Law Review, New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Guardian, and numerous other publications.

Killian McLoughlin

Research Associate, Yale University

  • Bio ▾

    Killian McLoughlin is a research technician in the Department of Psychology at Yale University. He holds a BA in philosophy and English literature from University College Dublin as well as an HDip in psychology from Trinity College Dublin. Before moving to Yale, Killian returned to University College Dublin to complete an MSc in social data analytics. During this time he also worked as part of an academic and civil society partnership on a project cataloging and publishing paid Facebook advertisements related to the Irish abortion referendum of 2018. This became a computational exploration of the sources and content of micro-targeted political advertisements on social media, which demonstrated overseas influence and untraceable financing of political ads in the Irish context. Killian currently works on projects investigating online moral outrage expression and perception using big data and machine learning methods. Recent research topics include gender differences in the experience of outrage online and in economic games, and ideological asymmetries in perceiving political outrage online.

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