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One’s tendency to share fake news is influenced by their personality, new Fuqua study suggests

<p>The Fuqua Library.</p>

The Fuqua Library.

Conservatives with low conscientiousness are the most likely to spread fake news online, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

The study, “Of pandemics, politics, and personality: The role of conscientiousness and political ideology in the sharing of fake news” explores the interplay between political ideology and personality in fake news sharing behaviors. 

The experiment was conducted by Fuqua doctoral candidate Asher Lawson and Hemant Kakkar, assistant professor of business administration. Lawson and Kakkar aimed to take a different approach in studying the spread of fake news, challenging much of the pre existing research surrounding the root cause of this phenomenon.

“[Previous] studies have shown that people who have a conservative slant, those who subscribe to conservative political ideology, those are the ones sharing fake news. And we know that's not true … we wanted to bring more nuance to the literature, so that we can say, in a more refined way, who shares fake news,” Kakkar said.

The study began by rating participants’ conscientiousness—drawing from the Big Five personality traits—defined as “a person’s ability to regulate their impulse control in order to engage in goal-directed behaviors.” 

Kakkar and Lawson hypothesized that low conscientiousness results in a greater chance of sharing fake news.

“[People with high conscientiousness] work hard, they persevere … It also reflects our idea to be duty bound, and so forth ... It's an important variable when it comes to sharing of fake news because sharing of fake news is driven by this impulsivity,” Kakkar said. “Oftentimes, you want to assert the dominance of your own group [or] the message that you want so that it could help your own group without really caring about the value or the truth about the message.”

Over 4,600 participants had their levels of conscientiousness ranked. The study also recorded information about participants’ political beliefs and party preferences. Their news-sharing habits were observed across six studies, focusing on news topics such as COVID-19 and the 2016 presidential election. 

The researchers also tested the effectiveness of fake news warning labels, which have been added to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in an attempt to curb the spread of such media. 

Across all studies, conservatives with low conscientiousness were the most likely to share fake news articles, no matter the topic or the presence of fake news warnings. They were still likely to share the news even after being faced with two fact-checking warnings. 

“[Fact-checking interventions] didn't work for us,” Kakkar said. “Despite those interventions in our studies, low conscientiousness conservatives continue to share fake news at a higher rate.”

Meanwhile, these warnings were more effective with other groups, including liberals and highly conscientious conservatives, which have similar patterns of news sharing.

“Liberals, whether they were high on conscientiousness, or whether they were low on conscientiousness, they were sharing fake news to the same extent [as high conscientiousness conservatives],” Kakkar said.

Kakkar and Lawson also hypothesized that people with low conscientiousness would have a higher drive for chaos, with loyalty to politics and beliefs over a desire for order and accuracy. 

Kakkar explained that they considered other reasons, but ultimately determined this tendency for chaos to be the root cause for sharing misinformation.

“It basically measures people's desire to burn down existing institutions … [the] need to create some sort of anarchy. And it basically is stemming from this distrust of whatever social institutions we see all around us,” Kakkar said.

While fake news led to an incredibly polar political and social environment, the future of fake news regulation remains uncertain. 

“We don't have a good solution right now ... And until then, I think it has to be the responsibility of moderators on these social media platforms, whether it's Facebook, whether it's Twitter, that they should actively remove such kind of information,” Kakkar said.

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