Have you reposted or retweeted an article on social media without reading it first?

Adrian Ward, an assistant professor of marketing at UT Austin, said sharing articles online can cause us to assume an “expert” identity, making us overconfident of our knowledge in ways that can affect our behavior, too. The researchers’ findings have important implications in a world where much of the information we consume comes to us in the form of a tweet, post or TikTok.

“You might be able to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if people think I know about this. I know I really don’t,’ ” said Ward, an author on the study. “Over time, you might actually come to think that you really do know about this stuff, because you share it online.”

. . .

A few years ago, Ward attended a talk where a computer scientist compared the spread of information on the internet to the spread of diseases like the flu. One person has a piece of knowledge and can share it to “infect” other people who then continue the chain.

Ward felt like something was missing in that explanation.

“I was like, I don’t think that everybody who is sharing content is actually reading or processing that content,” he said. “A lot of times, you just share or retweet.”

. . .

Ward and his team set up a series of experiments to figure out whether people shared content on social media without reading it and how that affected their knowledge.

. . .

The researchers discovered a pattern. People who shared content had higher subjective knowledge, or thought they knew more about the article, whether they’d read the story or not.

. . .

This was a novel finding to David Dunning, a professor in the University of Michigan’s psychology department who was not involved with the study. He said that other researchers have examined the idea of feeling more knowledgeable about a subject than we actually are, but that this is one of the first to explore that phenomenon in internet and social media use.

“[The study] shows a way in which social media can not only impact our behavior, but ultimately what we believe about ourselves, what we believe about our expertise,” Dunning said. “You could change people’s actual behavior based on their self-concepts, because of something they did on the Internet.”

Read the complete article in The Spokesman Review