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PLoS One. 2019 Mar 27;14(3):e0213500. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213500. eCollection 2019.

Social media's contribution to political misperceptions in U.S. Presidential elections.

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1
School of Communication, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.

Abstract

There is considerable concern about the role that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, play in promoting misperceptions during political campaigns. These technologies are widely used, and inaccurate information flowing across them has a high profile. This research uses three-wave panel surveys conducted with representative samples of Americans during both the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Presidential elections to assess whether use of social media for political information promoted endorsement of falsehoods about major party candidates or important campaign issues. Fixed effects regression helps ensure that observed effects are not due to individual differences. Results indicate that social media use had a small but significant influence on misperceptions about President Obama in the 2012 election, and that this effect was most pronounced among strong partisans. Social media had no effect on belief accuracy about the Republican candidate in that election. The 2016 survey focused on campaign issues. There is no evidence that social media use influenced belief accuracy about these topics in aggregate, but Facebook users were unique. Social media use by this group reduced issue misperceptions relative to those who only used other social media. These results demonstrate that social media can alter citizens' willingness to endorse falsehoods during an election, but that the effects are often small.

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