Social influence and misinformation online | Alberto Acerbi

Social influence and misinformation online


A current widespread narrative states that misinformation is abundant on social media, it has a relative advantage with respect to true information, and it changes people attitudes and behaviours. In my talk, I will examine how this narrative is not consistent with a cultural evolutionary view of social influence, according to which humans are not overly gullible, but they can be better characterised as wary learners. Much research shows indeed that the spread of misinformation online is limited, misinformation is not advantaged with respect to true information, and it is often innocuous or mostly reinforcing or justifying pre-existent beliefs. I will then discuss why this narrative has been successful, and why it may be misleading, or even harmful: it may be linked to a decline of trust in politics, reliable news outlets, and institutions; ‘fake news’ laws have been used to restrict freedom of press; and, mostly, it diverges attention and resources from the underlying socio-economical causes of complex collective problems. I will suggest some ways forward, including focusing on other aspects of the social/digital media system such as for example the online effectiveness of reliable news.

Oxford, United Kingdom
Alberto Acerbi

Cultural Evolution / Cognitive Anthropology / Individual-based modelling / Computational Social Science / Digital Media