For many people, Facebook is their main source for news.
Pew reports that half of the social network’s users rely on it to get their news, and researchers recently found that people join Facebook communities to reinforce their world views.
From science to conspiracy theories, people engage in confirmation bias – self-selecting into groups that share stories and information that support their understanding of the world. As a result, falsehoods and science articles continue to dominate in separate social circles.
“I would say that in the spreading of misinformation, online confirmation bias is the driver,” said researcher Walter Quattrociocchi of the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy.
In a study, published in the January 2016 edition of PNAS, social scientist Michela Del Vicario and her colleagues analyzed how conspiracy stories and science news travel through Facebook networks.
The research involved the analysis of web traffic to 67 Facebook pages – 32 promoting various conspiracy theories and 35 sharing science news – between 2010 and 2014.
“Users tend to aggregate in communities of interest, which causes reinforcement and fosters confirmation bias, segregation, and polarization,” the researchers explain. “This comes at the expense of the quality of the information and leads to the proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust, and paranoia.”
The study is the first to document this phenomenon online using real-world data.
“[Now,] we have specific evidence of confirmation bias in the sense that once you choose a narrative, the selection criteria is basically confirmation,” Quattrociocchi told The Washington Post in an interview.
Michela Del Vicario, Fabiana Zollo, and Walter Quattrociocchi, IMT Alti Studi Lucca, Lucca, Italy
Alessandro Bessi, IUSS Institute for Advanced Study, Pavia, Italy
Fabio Petroni, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy
Antonio Scala and Guido Caldarelli, IMT Alti Studi Lucca, Lucca, Italy and ISC-CNR Uos “Sapienza,” Rome, Italy
Eugene Stanley, Boston University