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Social Media Networks, Fake News, and Polarization

Marina Azzimonti and Marcos Fernandes

No 24462, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: We study how the structure of social media networks and the presence of fake news affects the degree of misinformation and polarization in a society. For that, we analyze a dynamic model of opinion exchange in which individuals have imperfect information about the true state of the world and exhibit bounded rationality. Key to the analysis is the presence of internet bots: agents in the network that spread fake news (e.g., a constant flow of biased information). We characterize how agents' opinions evolve over time and evaluate the determinants of long-run misinformation and polarization in the network. To that end, we construct a synthetic network calibrated to Twitter and simulate the information exchange process over a long horizon to quantify the bots' ability to spread fake news. A key insight is that significant misinformation and polarization arise in networks in which only 15% of agents believe fake news to be true, indicating that network externality effects are quantitatively important. Higher bot centrality typically increases polarization and lowers misinformation. When one bot is more influential than the other (asymmetric centrality), polarization is reduced but misinformation grows, as opinions become closer the more influential bot's preferred point. Finally, we show that threshold rules tend to reduce polarization and misinformation. This is because, as long as agents also have access to unbiased sources of information, threshold rules actually limit the influence of bots.

JEL-codes: C45 C63 D72 D8 D83 D85 D91 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018-03
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cul, nep-gth, nep-mic, nep-net and nep-soc
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (21)

Published as Marina Azzimonti & Marcos Fernandes, 2022. "Social media networks, fake news, and polarization," European Journal of Political Economy, .

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