Prejudiced Fake News and Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors

Racist fake news.

Posted Aug 08, 2020

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Social Media
Source: Pixabay

It seems that each day there is a new fake news story circulating on social media. This is problematic considering that 68 percent of American adults report that they at least occasionally get their news from social media.

Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are the top social media platforms from which consumers obtain news information. At the time of this writing, examining the Hot 50 from snopes.com shows that almost 20% of the top rumors being checked on snopes.com are based on bias, stereotypes, and prejudice. The remaining rumors, or false news reports, are related to either COVID-19 or politics. Even so, as with many fake news stories, the line between political posts, COVID-19 related posts, and prejudicial posts is rather thin. This may be related to the political shift between the two major parties that has slowly occurred over the years.

There are specific consumer characteristics and sociodemographic factors that may make consumers more susceptible to believing fake news. These include coming from a lower social class background or having a lower SES, having a conservative ideology, having higher levels of right-wing authoritarianism, and being White, male, and older (Wright et al., 2019; Wright et al., in press; Wright & Duong, under review). It appears as though believing fake news amplifies higher levels of right-wing authoritarianism and xenophobia that these consumers already have (Wright & Duong, under review), increasing the likelihood that exposure to fake news would have an impact on consumer attitudes and behaviors. These are the same consumer characteristics and sociodemographic factors that are associated with holding negative and intolerant attitudes toward minority groups that have been identified in numerous research studies (Berg, 2009Fryberg et al., 2012; McKeever et al., 2012; Ostfeld, 2017; Schemer, 2012; Timberlake & Williams, 2012; Valentino et al., 2013; Watson & Riffe, 2013).  

Prejudiced fake news has the intent of validating and encouraging discriminatory and racist opinions toward out-group members (Cerase & Santoro, 2018; Wright et al., 2019). This type of fake news is not only sensational, for shock value, but also provides stereotypical, biased, and prejudicial falsehoods (Wright et al., 2019; Wright et al., in press). Exposure to prejudiced fake news has been related to a lower likelihood of viewing immigration as a benefit and an increased likelihood of viewing it as a threat as well as holding intolerant attitudes toward immigrants and foreigners. Prejudiced fake news has also been associated with consumers reporting increased levels of Islamophobia (Wright et al., 2019; Wright et al., in press). More recently, with fake news related to COVID-19, consumers have reported higher levels of xenophobia and prejudicial attitudes toward Asian Americans (Wright & Duong, under review).

 Nomader/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Charleston Shooting Memorial Service
Source: Nomader/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dylann Roof is a not-so-distant example of how exposure to fake news can impact the actual behavior of consumers, highlighting how attitudes can lead to engaging in real-life behaviors. What happened with Dylann Roof demonstrates the dangerous nature of today’s fake news and the deadly consequences it can have. Dylann Roof engulfed himself with online racist fake news, amplifying his already existing prejudiced world views. This left him in an echo chamber surrounded by false information and conspiracy theories that led to confirmation bias and a drastic polarization of his views. This ended with him entering a church and murdering nine innocent people. 

Today’s racist fake news is just as bad, if not worse. From false claims that members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement doused two white men with gasoline to false claims that members of BLM are assaulting bystanders and false claims of a BLM flyer labeling white people as the enemy, the list just goes on and on. At this point, it seems endless.

In addition to fake news posts on social media, there are several U.S. based websites that are spreading racist fake news. The stories on these websites are very similar to the fake news posts often found on social media. Some claim that BLM is an “anti-police hate group,” a money-laundering tool for the Democratic National Committee, and even strongly advise consumers to purchase firearms and “plenty of ammo” to protect themselves against BLM. These racist fake news stories are more than false. They are dangerous and could very well, in today’s uneasy and stressful climate riffed by politics and COVID-19, lead to more Dylann Roofs.

References

Wright, C. L., Brinklow-Vaughn, R., Johannes, K., & Rodriguez, F. (in press). Media portrayals of immigration and refugees in hard and fake news and their impact on consumer attitudes. The Howard Journal of Communications.

Wright, C. L., & Duong, H. (under review). COVID-19 fake news and attitudes toward Asian Americans.