How do we (mis)inform ourselves through Facebook? Research on PNAS


In contrast to the overflow of fake news on social networks, putting a stop to the ‘forgers’ could reveal itself to be ineffective without a change in the behaviour of the users, who generally take their information from few pages, listen to few voices and are deaf to the facts that they don’t like, ignoring the reliability of the sources.

There is an Italian-led international team of researchers that have analysed the ‘consumption’ of news in English of 376 million Facebook users from 2010 to 2015. The study was published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Up until now it seemed as though the challenge was to ‘correct’ badly taught users that are fooled by the pseudoscientific and conspiracy news” commented Fabiana Zollo, post-PhD student at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and co-author of the research, “the new data demonstrates, however, that the question is more articulate and calls into question the crisis of the entire informative system and the disorientation tied to the deconstruction of society.”

Facebook users move in an “echo chamber” where the information that they find is always in harmony with their preconceptions. The phenomenon also looks at the use of news on social network: the study demonstrated that each user follows a limited number of newspaper Facebook pages, which they aren’t necessarily in total harmony with, but from which they select the preferred contents on the basis of their own preconceptions, becoming part of a well-defined community of users that think in the same way.

The scholars have also examined the geographical aspect, observing that the focus of the news outlets is restricted with respect to their more ‘cosmopolitan’ users. The ‘proximity’ seems to lose its importance with regards to the criteria used to select the articles that will be published.

Whilst the big players of information online, like Google and Facebook, are aiming to limit those that spread fake news, ‘labelling’ the verified articles or creating a ‘blacklist’ of websites that produce fake news, the principal cause of misinformation seems to come from the polarization of web users, according to the authors of the study.

The Anatomy of news consumption on Facebookstudy was carried out by Ana Lucía Schmidt (CSSLab IMT Lucca), Fabiana Zollo (Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), Michela Del Vicario (CSSLab IMT Lucca), Alessandro Bessi (IUSS Pavia), Antonio Scala (CSSLab IMT Lucca e Isc-Cnr), Guido Caldarelli (CSSLab IMT Lucca and Isc-Cnr), H. Eugene Stanley (Department of Physics, Boston University), Walter Quattrociocchi (CSSLab IMT Lucca).