Living in an unreal world: fake news, social identity theory, and media literacy

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This study examined fake news under the theoretical framework of Social Identification Theory, and whether media literacy could act as an inoculant against the undesirable effects of social identification as it relates to the perceived credibility of fake news stories. A survey was conducted in which respondents were asked to read four stories. Two of the stories were real and two were from a fake news publisher. One fake story was about Barack Obama, one fake story was about Donald Trump, one real story was about Barack Obama, and one real story was about Donald Trump. Respondents were then asked a battery of questions measuring their perceived credibility of each story. They were then tested for political and social identification. Respondents’ media literacy was measured and also tested. Perceived credibility for both real and fake stories was highly correlated with social identification. Media literacy was most effective against social identification with the real news stories but overall did not affect perceived credibility of the fake ones. However, when respondents were split along ideological lines, it was found that media literacy was an effective inoculant against fake stories for conservatives, and less so for liberals.

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