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Tribalism and Tribulations: The Social Cost of Not Sharing Fake News
Misinformation continues to motivate malicious acts such as the storming of the US Capitol, foster echo-chambers, and foment divisions between groups. Existing explanations for the spread of fake news have largely focus on individual and news level factors. Despite dissemination of fake news being a concerted group activity, we still lack understanding of group level factors that promote misinformation. In this research, we examine the role of the group context by proposing a novel social penalization hypothesis. Specifically, we contend that failing to share fake news endorsed by others in the group leads to social costs for the deviant member, resulting in reduced social interaction. In a large scale field study on Twitter analyzing real-world sharing of misinformation (n = 103,074) and three pre-registered studies (n = 8,850), we find support for our hypothesis. These social penalties provide a group-level explanation that may contribute to the proliferation of falsehoods.