Social media ‘narcissists’ more likely to share fake news–study
People who are considered narcissistic and are experiencing “social media fatigue” are more likely to fall for and share “fake news,” according to a new study conducted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore that explored the relationships between people’s cognitive and personality traits and the rise of misinformation.
The study, which gathered data from 8,000 respondents in Singapore, the United States, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, also found that Filipinos were most likely to perceive misinformation as accurate and share them on social media.
According to NTU assistant professor Saifuddin Ahmed, one of the coauthors of the study, it aimed to show how social media fatigue—defined as exhaustion from information and cognitive overload due to social media use—and “dark” personality traits like narcissism could cause people to “unintentionally contribute to disseminating misinformation.”
Filling a gap
“Such insights could be leveraged to shape preventive measures, emphasizing the importance of social media literacy and initiatives to mitigate social media fatigue,” Saifuddin said.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was done in collaboration with Muhammad Ehab Rasul, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis.
The partnership sought to fill a gap in the current literature about disinformation by looking at how people’s mental health can also affect the information ecosystem.
For this particular project, the study sought to look at narcissism—usually characterized by “an increased desire for attention, admiration and feelings of uniqueness”—as a factor that makes social media users more prone to overestimating their ability to detect false information.
The study first measured the respondents’ social media fatigue by rating their level of agreement on five statements concerning social media use.
One statement sought to determine whether they feel mentally exhausted or too tired to perform other tasks due to social media use.
The respondents were then asked to rate the accuracy of a series of false claims about COVID-19, presented in a mock social media post style, and their likelihood of sharing these claims.
One such post for testing read: “Coconut is effective in reducing COVID-19 symptoms.” Another read: “COVID-19 vaccinations are dangerous and ineffective against Omicron variants.”
The researchers found that people with high levels of fatigue and narcissism are more likely to fall for and share misinformation. In one unexpected finding, such a tendency also proved true for people who have high cognitive skills and high levels of narcissism.
“With high levels of fatigue, these individuals could be sharing misinformation as they may be trying to seek attention and gain social influence without applying critical thinking. This tendency to share misinformation is particularly relevant for misinformation that is often characterized by sensational and controversial content eliciting strong emotional reactions from the audience,” Saifuddin said.
Excessive fatigue may also amplify impulsiveness among low-cognitive narcissists: “Narcissists prefer immediate rewards and satisfaction rather than delayed gratification. Thus, it is likely that when accompanied by high fatigue and limited cognitive ability, narcissists do not make sound judgments about misinformation and share them due to their impulsive nature.
More targeted strategies
Given these findings, the researchers urged policymakers and social media companies looking to counter misinformation to not only regulate fake news and raise the level of digital literacy, but also devise “curated strategies” that target specific groups that are more vulnerable to misinformation.
“The study also supports the need for targeted campaigning among the public. We observe that individuals with certain personality traits and cognition are more susceptible than others. As such, it would be advisable to devise curated strategies targeted at specific groups rather than using a single-lens framework for everyone in society,” it said.