New Study Reveals Why We Share on Social Media, It's All About the Surprises and Beliefs!

A new study published in Scientific Reports explores the reasons we like to share information on social media and what kind of information is usually shared by people. The study found out that the information that is more surprising and unusual is more likely to be shared. The novelty of information also plays a part in making people share it with other people like political news or issues about health. The study also adds that a person's personal beliefs also contribute to information being shared.

The author of the study, Jacob T. Goebel of Ohio State University, says that many researches have proved that false information spreads quicker than true information because false facts make people more surprised and curious. But this research also studies how people’s beliefs and viewpoints act together to make a judgment about whether an information is true or not.

For the study, the researchers did an analysis of data from Twitter and two controlled experiments. They gathered some political news from a neutral news source and analyzed how many people have retweeted those news tweets. The ideological beliefs of people who retweeted those tweets were also examined. After that, they did a controlled experiment with 226 undergraduate students and were asked to act as an editor’s assistant at the news outlet. Their task was to forward the news to the editor and they had to decide how much information would be enough for the editor to completely understand the news. The first news they got was about an interview which was talking about the effectiveness of risk taking in firefighting. The transcript of the news was designed in the way that it was manipulating the reader’s beliefs. After establishing those beliefs, the participants got an update from the reporter with the additional information which was either supporting or opposing the initial information. The participants were surprised with the novelty of the information and added the pieces of information that were important to be passed over to the editor.

The second experiment included 301 participants and was similar in nature but the topic was if a specific country should be allowed to join the European Union. Like the first experiment, first the participants expressed the information about their own beliefs and then they received an update from the reporter which was supporting or opposing the initial information. They were also asked to rate the value of the information in the update before making any decisions.

The results of the tweet analysis showed that tweets which were made right after an event got more retweets and from the people who had the same beliefs and political ideologies. The author of the study said that many people don’t only share news that is new but also the news that aligns with their beliefs. The two controlled experiments also showed that the information participants already knew was less surprising for them but it was most shared too. Participants shared the information that was closer to what they believed and they were not sensitive to the manipulated information.

This study talks about how a person's already existing views about health or politics can easily help him spread information, not taking in account whether it is true or fake. As this study was done in the scenario where the information had to be shared with an editor, different scenarios can bring different results.

Ohio State University's Jacob T. Goebel's study shows: False info spreads faster due to surprise factor.
Image: DIW-Aigen

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