Whether politically, economically, ideologically, or personally motivated: Fake news can be spread at a rapid pace via social media and thus influence public opinion.
The role of influencers as opinion leaders
Opinion leaders have been around longer than the internet. They have always enjoyed great trust in their direct social environment thanks to their expertise and authenticity. A central finding from information and communication research is that a person is more likely to change their attitude the more credibly they assess the source of information that suggests a change in attitude.
The sender’s trustworthiness and its expert status are the strongest factors in assessing credibility. So if an opinion leader recommends a certain attitude, behavior, or product, this has a high impact on their social environment. Opinion leaders can recommend products at https://medium.com/@playtime/best-toys-gifts-for-9-year-old-boys-bfab54ea2e55.
In social networks, influencers as digital opinion leaders nowadays reach a much larger audience – beyond their direct social environment – and their posts develop a high dynamic.
Negative emotions as “attention magnets”
Fake news is mainly noticed and shared in social networks and messenger services if it provokes strong emotions. Negative emotions receive significantly more attention than positive ones.
From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense for humans to pay more attention to dangers than to “harmless” events. In the brain, dangerous and bad messages are given a lot of storage space. They are remembered more than good events and actions, as they can be valuable for survival in the wild. Populists take advantage of this phenomenon: false reports are presented in sensational form and contain simplified, strong messages.
Avoidance of cognitive dissonance
Another psychological aspect contributes to the success of fake news: People tend to avoid cognitive dissonances. People prefer information that fits their personal worldview and social identity well. This applies to both hoax and true news.
If these messages also come from your personal network – from friends, family members, or a prominent personality – you want to give them a lot of faith. If, on the other hand, you are outside your own social group, this leads to taking a closer look at arguments. It can therefore be very helpful to evaluate information to use sources that are not in your personal comfort zone.