AI at Wharton


Social Motives for Sharing Conspiracy Theories

Authors: Zhiying (Bella) Ren*, Eugen Dimant, Maurice Schweitzer


Why do people share conspiracy theories? Recent work suggests that people share misinformation because they are inattentive. We find that people also knowingly share misinformation to advance social motives. Across three preregistered studies (total N=1,560 Prolific workers), we investigate the social motives for sharing conspiracy theories. We find that people are willing to trade off accuracy to build social connections when making content sharing decisions. Moreover, even though people know that factual news are more accurate than conspiracy theories, they expect sharing conspiracy theories to generate higher social value than sharing factual news. Lastly, in an interactive multi-round content-sharing paradigm, we find that social feedback could change the social value people attach to sharing misinformation. Our findings substantially develop our understand ofwhyand when individuals are most likely to share conspiracy theories. These findings also make important contributions to understanding and curbing the spread of misinformation.