Why do people consume and share fake news online? Previous work has shown that news consumption and sharing emerges from complex interactions among news sources, news content, and user characteristics: users consume and share ideologically aligned news and shun the opposite. This behavior is further complicated by fake news, which can amplify content’s ideological and emotional characteristics without the constraints of truth, and by peer sharing, which may reduce institutional barriers to fake news and amplify local, peer-to-peer polarization. Identifying the mechanisms by which peers amplify fake and polarized news remains challenging, however, because social media has coevolved with polarization and shifts in the news media landscape. To illuminate these mechanisms, we begin by developing new natural language processing (NLP) methods to measure the ideology and emotion of news content and to assess how ideology and emotion of news content affect sharing and consumption. Having established this baseline, we then exploit a natural discontinuity to identify specifically peer-related effects on sharing: recent public changes in the Facebook algorithm abruptly shifted the balance between peer- and media-sourced news, allowing us to use difference-in-difference and other longitudinal estimators to measure changes in polarized or fake news and discover how peer-sharing affects these tendencies. This combination of NLP, network, and discontinuity approaches should provide unique insights into the interactions between news, ideology, falsity, and peer sharing, and shed light on important questions such as how social media may have affected polarization, fake news, and political knowledge in the recent era.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University
Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University
Assistant Professor of Economics, Northeastern University
Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, State University of New York at Buffalo
Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Northeastern University