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Partisan Polarization Is the Primary Psychological Motivation behind Political Fake News Sharing on Twitter

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The rise of fake news is a major concern in contemporary Western democracies. Yet, research on the psychological motivations behind the spread of political fake news on social media is surprisingly limited. Are citizens who share fake news ignorant and lazy? Are they fueled by sinister motives, seeking to disrupt the social status quo? Or do they seek to attack partisan opponents in an increasingly polarized political environment? This article is the first to test these competing hypotheses based on a careful mapping of psychological profiles of over 2,300 American Twitter users linked to behavioral sharing data and sentiment analyses of more than 500,000 news story headlines. The findings contradict the ignorance perspective but provide some support for the disruption perspective and strong support for the partisan polarization perspective. Thus, individuals who report hating their political opponents are the most likely to share political fake news and selectively share content that is useful for derogating these opponents. Overall, our findings show that fake news sharing is fueled by the same psychological motivations that drive other forms of partisan behavior, including sharing partisan news from traditional and credible news sources.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftAmerican Political Science Review
Vol/bind115
Nummer3
Sider (fra-til)999-1015
Antal sider17
ISSN0003-0554
DOI
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2021

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grant AUFF-E-2016-9-22 from the Aarhus University Research Foundation to Michael Bang Petersen and grant CF18-1108 from the Carlsberg Foundation to Michael Bang Petersen.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.

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