New O3C Survey Report: News Sharing on UK Social Media: Misinformation, Disinformation & Correction

Very little is known about the motivations that drive people to share political news on social media and how these might be contributing to changes in our online civic culture. If we can learn more about the things people try to achieve when they share news online—and the extent to which these motivations might reinforce or undermine the distribution of false or misleading information—liberal democracies can start to think about how they can reduce important online harms. This report is the first to address these issues in Britain on the basis of a survey of the news sharing habits on social media of a representative sample of the British public. It was authored by Professor Andrew Chadwick and Dr Cristian Vaccari. We gratefully acknowledge the support of O3C data partner Opinium Research, which provided its survey services pro bono.

Key Questions

  1. How widespread is the sharing of false and misleading political news among British social media users?
  2. To what extent is there a persistent and damaging “anything goes” culture among those who share political news on social media?
  3. To what extent does the correction of false and misleading news through the “wisdom of crowds”—a previously much-lauded feature of the internet—actually operate on British social media?

To answer these questions, we designed a survey and asked Opinium Research to administer it to an online sample representative of the UK adult population, based on key demographic variables such as age, gender, and region of residence. 2,005 respondents completed the questionnaire between July 5–16, 2018.*

Summary of Key Findings

  • More than half of British social media users (57.7 percent) came across news in the past month on social media that they thought was not fully accurate.
  • 42.8 percent of news sharers admit to sharing inaccurate or false news; 17.3 percent admit to sharing news they thought was made up when they shared it. These users are more likely to be male, younger, and more interested in politics.
  • A substantial amount of the sharing on social media of inaccurate or made up news goes unchallenged. Fewer social media users (33.8 percent) report being corrected by other social media users than admit to sharing false or exaggerated news (42.8 percent). And 26.4 percent of those who shared inaccurate or made up news were not corrected. There are some grounds for optimism if we see this particular glass as half full: after all, almost three quarters of respondents who shared news that was exaggerated or made up also reported being reprimanded by other social media users.
  • However, the most problematic news sharing does not stimulate many social media users to correct the sharers: in total, only 8.5 percent of British social media users said that they reprimanded another social media user for sharing news that was made up.
  • Those who share news on social media are mainly motivated to inform others and express their feelings, but more civically-ambivalent motivations also play an important role. For example, almost a fifth of news sharers (18.7 percent) see upsetting others as an important motivation when they share news.
  • There are some partisan differences in sharing inaccurate or made up news on UK social media. Conservative supporters, and those with right-wing ideological beliefs, are more likely to share inaccurate news; they are also more likely to be reprimanded by others for doing so. Labour supporters, and those who hold left-wing ideological beliefs, are more likely to see inaccurate news and to correct other social media users for sharing it.
  • About one-third (31 percent) of British social media users share news on social media at least once a month. The demographic and behavioural profile of these users resembles that of the most politically active members of the general public—they are more likely to be male, have higher educational attainment, and be more interested in politics—although younger people are more likely than older people to share news.

About the Online Civic Culture Centre (O3C)

Established in 2018 through Loughborough University’s Adventure Research Programme, the Online Civic Culture Centre (O3C) applies concepts and methods from social science and information science to understand the role of social media in shaping our civic culture. Led by Professor Andrew Chadwick, it features academic staff and doctoral researchers drawn from the disciplines of communication, information science, social psychology, and sociology. O3C enables interdisciplinary teams of researchers to work together on issues of misinformation, disinformation, and the rise of hate speech and intolerance online. It develops evidence-based knowledge to mitigate the democratically-dysfunctional aspects of social media. At the same time, it identifies and promotes the positive civic engagement benefits of social media. For more information, visit the O3C website, and follow us on Twitter. 

* The views in this report are those of its authors. This research received no external funding. We thank O3C data partner Opinium Research, which provided its survey services pro bono.