Political Communication   Trust  

How Partisanship and Political Fandom Affect the Spread of Misinformation

As the nation faces another contentious election cycle, the spread of misinformation continues to be rampant. Scholars wanted to explore the predictability of whether or not people would seek and share misinformation without first fact-checking it.

In the realm of politics, two distinct layers often twine together: political partisanship and political fandom. Partisanship refers to our alignment with a particular political party, shaping our understanding of the world and influencing how we engage with others who share our ideology. Political fandom takes this identification a step further, fostering a dedicated attachment to a specific politician. This emotional bond transcends mere party affiliation, creating a deeper sense of loyalty and identification with the individual figure.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Assistant Professor Won-Ki Moon and Soobum Lee, a professor in the Department of Mass Communications at Incheon National University (South Korea), wanted to understand the relationship between these two social identities — partisanship and fandom —  to construct a predictive model for biased information seeking and sharing as a response to misinformation.

The scholars relied on data from the 2019 election in South Korea, where political polarization and misinformation also ran rampant. This election was characterized by a well-established “blue collar” vs. “white collar” political divide. The researchers wanted to illuminate the complex relationship between social identity, information consumption, and ultimately, the spread of misinformation by posing a series of questions about political behavior to voters.

The research revealed a nuance between partisanship and fandom and their influence on information behavior. Both strong partisanship and intense political fandom significantly increased the likelihood of individuals seeking and sharing misinformation without fact-checking. This suggests that strong affiliations, whether to a party or a specific politician, act as blinders, prioritizing information that bolsters existing beliefs, regardless of its truthfulness.

Interestingly, political fandom had a moderating influence on partisanship. When fandom was low, partisanship held sway, dictating biased information consumption. However, as fandom towards a specific politician grew, the influence of partisanship waned. This suggests that a strong emotional attachment to a political figure can sometimes trump broader ideological loyalties.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding emerged at extreme levels of political fandom, where the relationship with misinformation sharing flipped. Highly devoted fans of a specific politician were sometimes less likely to share misinformation, potentially driven by a desire to protect their favorite politician’s image and reputation. This opens up possibilities for leveraging strong political attachments to promote responsible information consumption within fan communities.

The research suggests that political fandom can result in stronger social identity than partisanship in certain contexts. Individuals with strong attachments to specific politicians may prioritize loyalty to that individual over broader partisan ideology, potentially mitigating biased information behavior under specific circumstances.

By understanding the dynamics of more than one social identity, political affiliations and information consumption in the age of misinformation, the researchers believe we can develop more effective strategies to combat the spread of misinformation and promote responsible information consumption in the digital age.

The original paper, “Who seeks and shares misinformation about politicians? Focusing on the roles of party- and politician-level social identities,” was published in the Journal of Information Science on November 13, 2023.

 Authors: Won-Ki Moon and Soobum Lee.

 This summary was written by Gigi Marino.

Posted: January 30, 2024
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