#Infohygiene: “Be cautious of information forwarded to you through your network”

“Was the information forwarded to you?” is a common recommendation for protecting oneself against misinformation. The rationale is that one needs to question their trust network; more specifically to refrain from letting their guard down just because a piece of news came from a friend. While friends forwarding news may be generally trusted and have no ill intent, this does not mean that they have not themselves been deceived by information that is mal-intentioned and biased.

Kang and Sunder have explained that when reading online news, the closest source is often one of our friends. Because we tend to trust our friends, our cognitive filters weaken, making a social media feed fertile ground for fake news to sneak into our consciousness. Their experiment with 146 participants showed that people are less sceptical of information they encounter on platforms they have personalised through friend requests and “liked” pages, and do not question the credibility of the source of news when they think of their friends as the source.

To this, also add the study comparing the dynamics of the spreading of unverified rumours and scientific news on Facebook by Vicario et al., who observed that most of the times, unverified rumours were taken on by a friend having the same profile, i.e., belonging to the same “echo chamber”.

H. Kang and S. S. Sunder. “When Self Is the Source: Effects of Media Customization on Message Processing”, Journal of Media Psychology, 19(4), pp.561-588, 2016.
M. D. Vicario, A. Bessi, F. Zollo, F. Petroni, A. Scala, G. Caldarelli, H. E. Stanley, and W. Quattrociocchi. The spreading of misinformation online, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America (PNAS), 2016, 113 (3): 554-559.

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