In the past years, much attention has been devoted to the online spread of misinformation and its alleged dangers. This project aims to reverse this perspective, by focusing on the spread of reliable information. First, several studies showed that, when considered at scale, misinformation represents a small proportion of the total information we access on social media. Second, we tend to engage with misinformation consistent with what we already believe: misinformation reinforces our assumptions, more than changing our minds. For these reasons, interventions that increase, even minimally, credibility and spread of true news are likely to have a bigger effect than interventions that directly address misinformation.
Within a cultural evolutionary framework, this project focuses on some determinants of engagement with true news, with the explicit aim of planning for future interventions. We will use data from social media to test how features of content favour engagement, and what kind of engagement. We will focus on features highlighted as salient in both online and offline studies: negative and positive emotional content, emotional content in general, out-group detraction, and threat-related information.
The deliverables will be scientific and general-public publications. All the data and the code used to generate and analyse them will be made public. The project will provide a new understanding of what makes true information engaging in social media, drawing on a robust cultural evolution theoretical background. At the same time, it will lay the foundations for interventions aimed to improve engagement with true news, by suggesting what content generates engagement, and what kind of engagement. Finally, more broadly, the project implements a radical change of perspective on how we can improve the social media informational ecosystem, focusing on the effect of true information more than on fighting against misinformation.