Title: Political misperception in the age of the Internet
Political misperception in the age of the Internet
What role does the Internet play in the promotion of political misperceptions? Partisan websites, social media, and email have transformed the ways Americans learn about politics. These technologies may contribute to the prevalence and durability of beliefs that contradict the best available evidence. This talk examines the relationship between the Internet and political misperception in two parts. First, it considers the possibility of distinct channel effects. In the 2008 election, email was a uniquely powerful predictor of false rumor beliefs, an effect attributed in part to the personal connections on which email exchanges are typically premised. By 2012, social media had exploded onto the scene. Like email, these services facilitate exchanges among interpersonal network. Does this mean that social media use promotes the spread or rumors in the same ways that email did in 2008? Panel data collected during the last U.S. Presidential election suggest that the answer is no: email remains a uniquely influential medium for promoting false rumors. The second part of the talk considers the influence of partisan news media on misperceptions. Scholars suggest that consumers of partisan news have less accurate beliefs because these outlets promote ignorance of unpalatable evidence. Recent work on selective exposure, however, suggests that this is unlikely to be the full story. Relatively few Americans construct insular news “echo chambers” on which the predicted ignorance is premised. One-sided online news outlets can, however, still promote misperceptions. Perceptions of reality are informed by knowledge and acceptance of available evidence. Analysis of 2012 survey data shows that consumers who rely more heavily on biased outlets are both more likely to misunderstand expert conclusions and more likely to reach an outlet-favored conclusion regardless of what they know. Together, these results paint a complicated picture of the Internet’s influence of misperceptions. The effects of the Internet vary significantly depending on which technologies are used, and media-induced misperceptions are more strongly shaped by biased perceptions than by ignorance of evidence.
About the Speaker
R. Kelly Garrett is an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at the Ohio State University. His research concerns online political communication, online news, and the ways in which citizens and activists use new technologies to shape their engagement with contentious political topics.