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Fake-News Headlines Seem Less Unethical When Previously Encountered
Keywords: Misinformation, fake news, fluency, familiarity, repetition, moral judgment, intuition, deliberation, ethics, lies, truth
Abstract: When a fake-news article “goes viral,” a person may encounter it multiple times. Three experiments (two pre-registered; N = 1,685) suggest that people will perceive a fake news story as less unethical to spread if they have encountered the same story before, even if they recognize it as false. Participants rated a series of headlines, correctly labelled as inaccurate, a random subset of which they had been shown earlier in the experiment. The headlines seen earlier were rated as less unethical to publish than the headlines seen for the first time – and the more unethical participants found the headlines, the more inclined they were to promote them on social media. These effects were somewhat smaller when participants were induced to think deliberatively (vs. intuitively) about the headlines’ ethicality, suggesting that repeating misinformation softens moral judgments by affecting intuitions. We discuss implications of these findings for understanding and combatting misinformation.