RIFT VALLEY INSTITUTE OF BUSINESS STUDIES COLLEGE……Personality factors and self-reported political news consumption predict susceptibility to political fake news.
The existence of fake news on social media is likely to influence important issues such as elections, attitudes toward public policy, and health care decisions. Studies have shown that individual differences predict participants’ ability to discern real and fake news. The present study examined whether personality factors and news consumption predict an individual’s political news discernment. Participants (N = 353) judged the accuracy of true and false political news headlines, completed a personality inventory, and reported how many hours they obtained political news from various sources in a typical week. Regression analyses revealed that greater levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, open-mindedness, lower levels of extraversion, and fewer hours of news consumption were related to better news discernment. Participants also showed a bias toward headlines consistent with their self-reported political ideology, and this bias was related to consumption of ideologically biased news sources. These results extend those that have identified individual differences in news discernment, demonstrating that personality factors and news consumption are related to the ability to discern between true and false political news.
Fake news, manufactured information that resembles legitimate news media content, is a feature of the social media landscape. For example, fake political news had a persistent presence on Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Bovet & Makse, 2019). In addition to elections, fake news may influence public opinion on important issues, such as climate change and health care. Furthermore, exposure to fake news on important public issues reduces trust in mainstream media. In laboratory settings, fake news discernment is assessed by having participants judge the accuracy of a set of true and false news headlines.
In a multiple regression analysis, we found that agreeableness, conscientiousness, and open-mindedness were positively related to political news discernment, whereas extraversion, political conservatism, and the number of hours participants consume political news were negatively related. The negative relationship between political conservatism and news discernment replicates those from previous studies. Agreeableness and conscientiousness were related to lower perceived accuracy of false news, whereas open-mindedness was related to both less belief in false news and greater perceived accuracy of true news. These results provide support for the predictions made by Sindermann, Cooper, and Montag (2020). Additionally, participants’ political conservatism predicted less perceived accuracy of true news. An unexpected finding was that the more hours participants reported consuming political news, the worse their ability to discern true from false news. As expected, more news consumption was related to greater accuracy ratings of true news. However, more news consumption was also related to greater perceived accuracy of false news, and this relationship was stronger than the true news relationship, which resulted in a negative relationship between news discernment and news consumption. The overall negative relationship between hours of news consumption and news discernment appears to be driven by news sources that lean right, specifically Fox News. Participants’ consumption of a greater variety of sources from different political slants was not significantly related to news discernment, which is inconsistent with the prediction of Sindermann, Cooper, and Montag (2020). Additional research is needed to better understand the relationship between news consumption and susceptibility to fake news. Participants exhibited a political bias in their ratings of headlines, replicating previous studies. Participants who were more liberal perceived the accuracy of pro-liberal headlines as greater than pro-conservative headlines, whereas participants who were more conservative participants did the opposite. A regression analysis revealed that only participants’ ideology and the bias of the news they consumed were significantly related to their bias in headline ratings—personality factors did not have significant relationships with political bias. Limitations of the present study include the sampling of material and participants, and the self-reporting of news consumption. The headlines in the study appeared on websites a few months prior to data collection. The false headlines had been circulated on the internet, which adds to the ecological validity of the study. However, the sample of headlines may not have been representative of participants’ knowledge of political news. The self-reporting of news consumption is another limitation. Participants may over report the amount of news they watch on television and read online. If certain participants over reported more than others, this could explain the relationship between news consumption and perceived accuracy of true and false news. The tendency to over claim could have led to greater reports of news consumption and greater perceived accuracy of headlines. Future research should examine news consumption with more objective measures. We also note that the effect sizes reported in the present study were small. Future research should examine other predictors of news discernment and bias to explain some of the variance not explained by the present study’s set of predictors.
The present study helps elucidate the relationships between personality factors, news consumption, and the ability to discern between true and false news headlines. Agreeableness, conscientiousness, and open-mindedness were related to lower perceived accuracy of false news, whereas the number of hours participants consumed political news was related to greater perceived accuracy of false news. Thus, certain personality factors may be related to susceptibility to fake news, whereas exposure to news may not.
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